Where I’ll Be – SXSWedu 2018

Join the (4)

I love SXSWedu! It’s one of my all-time favorite edtech conferences. I attended and spoke in 2015 and met so many great educators that have become great friends of mine. Every experience at SXSWedu transforms my teaching practices. Last year, I led a core conversation with my buddy, Jay Silver on Invention Literacy, and attended a material exploration workshop that changed the way I introduce making to my students and workshop participants.

This year I’m excited to be on an epic panel:

Thriving Makerspaces in Low Income and Rural Schools

Wed, March 7  | 11:00-12:00 – Austin Convention Center Room 3

This is going to be a one great conversation! Aaron, Paula, and I work at very different schools, yet we are all successfully implementing maker education with low income populations using low cost tools. We believe making should be accessible for all, and we can’t wait to share our success (and failure) stories!

Here’s the blurb in case you haven’t clicked into the session info yet!

“Our panel, including a librarian, teacher, director of a makerspace, and a non-profit leader, will discuss and share their observations and experiences in creating successful and sustainable makerspaces in low income and rural schools. Educators in low income and rural communities face challenges in implementing hands-on learning, including financial, cultural, and systemic barriers, which need to be addressed in order to authentically provide maker education for all students.”

After this session, I’ll be signing books on Wednesday, March 7 from 12:30 – 1:00pm on Level 3 of the Austin Convention Center in Room 10C.

Other Sessions I’m looking forward to…..

Jeff Branson from Sparkfun Edu mentioned some great sessions that I’m equally excited about! One of which is:

“Toy Hacking puts the students behind the curtain of consumer products, gets students active under the hood with toys they know as consumers. While the rest of the world spray paints wires pink to get girls into STEM, we empower our students to take control. Toy Hacking teaches electronics, CS, gears, drafting, sewing, as well as literacy rich documentation skills. This is a choice-rich, no kit, open-source, low-cost curriculum. Come play and learn with us, and bring it to your class tomorrow.”

Monday is jam packed with greatness, here are a few quick highlights:

“After attending SXSW EDU in 2017, Saurabh returned to India and opened one of the first makerspace dedicated exclusively to kids in New Delhi. His son had already taken a liking to making activities and he was able to find a community of children to join in the holy grail of learning – maker space activities. Utilizing his learned makerspace knowledge he was able to successfully teach math, science and English to the young students at his maker space in New Delhi.”

This session will be epic! I spoke with Ela Ben-Ur last year during one of her mentor sessions and was blown away with the Innovator’s Compass!

“Five simple questions drive design thinking and many methods for unsticking different problems. We all ask those questions—just not consistently. What happens when students, and adults around them, use those questions as a visual compass to find new possibilities in their everyday challenges—from conflicts to homework? See learners of all ages getting unstuck on their own and together. Hear their impact stories. Practice with your peers. Leave ready to empower anyone to navigate challenges.”

“As virtual and augmented reality applications make headlines, teachers may be wondering how they can meaningfully bring these tools to their classrooms. Not only do these technologies allow students to understand the world around them in new ways, they are also allowing kids to create their own worlds. Come learn from a panel of cutting-edge educators who are utilizing Unity tools to teach students 21st century skills, empowering the next generation of coders, artists and designers.”

“Transform flights of creative fancy via hashtags and doodles, mashups and portmanteaux, Oreo cookies, and LEGO bricks into pathways for students to demonstrate content knowledge, critical thinking, and the problem solving that will serve them best no matter what their futures may bring. Structured to maximize takeaways and firsthand experience, learn how explanation, rationale, and intentionality elevate our classrooms into places where students shift from passive riders to active adventurers.”

“Makerspaces can provide even more powerful learning opportunities when an element of diversity is purposefully integrated into the maker experience. In this session, join the conversation with a panel of different types of library professionals and learn ways to infuse a variety of cultures, appeal to different ages and genders, and expand awareness of different socioeconomic groups in makered activities to cultivate a broader understanding of the world for a deeper learning experience.”

Tuesday Highlights

“Kids today have a lot to deal with. Like adults, kids stress out about work, school, relationships; a myriad of things that they have no control over. In this session, attendees will get the opportunity to experience how elements of hip hop and yoga can help kids cope with stress, overcome social anxiety, and express themselves creatively. Attendees will get the opportunity to experience how the two correlate through self-exploration and collaborative activities.”

Wednesday Highlights

“In the last decade, libraries have transformed, from the traditional book provider to become the community anchor where the next generation technology innovations take place. Drawing from initiatives such as the Libraries Ready to Code project and IMLS grants, this session provides perspectives from thought leaders in industry, government, universities, and libraries on the role libraries play in our national CS education ecosystem and work together with communities to support youth success.”

“What makes a great ed game? We asked the kids who are playing them in classrooms. Game designer/teacher Steve Isaacs’ students reviewed some of the world’s most popular classroom games and created several short videos like the popular “What Kids Think of…” YouTube series. iCivics CEO Louise Dube’, Games for Change chair Asi Burak, and games scholar Matt Farber will discuss what these students have to say in a session that is sure to challenge academics, designers, and educators.”


“Science has inspired artists to consider scale and has given us tools to see the world from an up-close perspective. In this workshop, participants capture still and film images from a digitally fabricated webcam microscope that can be made inexpensively with low or high-tech tools. This open-ended activity invites people to explore possibilities while encouraging the artist and scientist in all of us to zoom in and find beauty in the world up-close. BYOD (laptop) to this session.”

Thursday Highlights

This is an epic line-up. I saw Lisa Brahms, from MakeShop, speak in DC during the Capitol Hill Maker Faire in 2016. You won’t want to miss this session!

“Making Spaces is a partnership between Maker Ed, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and 15 Regional Hubs to form a national network which has supported the integration of making in 60+ schools across the country in the first year of the program. Panelists will discuss their successes and challenges around sustainability, fundraising, and community building, as well as share visioning and goal setting tools from the Crowdfunding for Making in Schools Toolkit.”

There are so many awesome sessions! It’ll be hard to decide between them all. I’m looking forward to a stellar week of learning and connecting with other educators.


Resource- Crowdsourcing Invention Literacy at #SXSWedu

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It’s time for the final reflection post from SXSWedu! Here is a link to the first post on sharing mistakes and failing forward, and the second post on the importance of exploring materials. 

Invention Literacy Core Convo

Invention Literacy

If you have never been to a core conversation at SXSWedu, it’s a unique experience in a conference setting where educators sit Socratic seminar style and the presenters ask the audience questions. In this post, I’m including our questions and the audience responses. In the instance where I could decipher who said the quote in the recording, I put the name of the audience member. See full set of questions with embedded resources here. (Since the presentation is made in Adobe Spark, it is best viewed on a computer.)

Ques and Ideas from the Invention Literacy Core Convo

Defining Invention Literacy – How would you define it?

  • “Helping students understand how to create things or bring things into being.” Sam Patterson
  • “The ability to look at existing objects and realize they are brought into being too.”
  • “You have a set of skills that allow you to think about problems differently.”
  • “Tools- That enable students to approach something and being able to create.”
  • “Ideas can be thought of as tools. When should we think about ideas as tools vs truth? ” – Jay Silver

Why is Invention Literacy Important?

  • “What idea can I put out into the world as a stepping stone that is graspable? So that we will have a fabric of independent thinkers that form their own world view? So they can think of beautiful things or work together as humanity?” – Jay Silver
  • “Because it’s fun and it’s engaging.”
  • “To create independence. To create the ability for them (our students) to not rely on just one thing.”
  • “Great chance for learning how to fail and stick-to -it-ive ness” – Leah Mann
  • “To introduce them to uncertainty. And teach students that they can figure out how to do things. You can just think about what’s in front of you and come up with a solution.” – Sam Patterson
  • “How do we keep our students from losing their sense of wonder as they grow older?”- Me
  • “Kids are naturally inquisitive and we need to harness that. Allowing them to make and create, gives them the forum to answer their own questions and not rely on other people. ” – 1st grade teacher
  • “Kids can ask their own questions and find their own answers.” – 1st grade teacher (Develop agency in our students at a YOUNG AGE!)
  • “It’s empowering!”

What is the most important thing on your mind right now about education?

At one point, Jay asked everyone in the room to voice “The most important thing on your mind right now about education?” Then he scanned the room and gave every audience member a chance to voice their thoughts.

  • Critical Thinking*
  • Agency*
  • Empathy*
  • Fostering Creativity*
  • Self Directed Learning*
  • Problem-Solving
  • Following own Interests
  • Joy
  • Relationships
  • Challenging
  • Ownership
  • Empowerment
  • Learning Through Failure
  • Student Voice
  • Equity

*Top Five Most Mentioned

You can’t hear this in the sound recording, but you can watch this vocal chorus about 12:00 in on the video below:

How/ When Should We Introduce this Concept of Invention Literacy?

  • “In some schools, the staff want it to be after school, but how is this equitable for all students?” – Steven Muniz
  • “It should be offered during different times during the school day and embedded in the curriculum because the “one size fits all” method doesn’t work for our students”- Leah Mann
  • “It has to be intentional, but teachers feel like they have to have ‘something come out.’ Instead, teachers have to re-think what they do and that might make some of our teachers uncomfortable. Even so, it should be seen as interwoven into our curriculum. (Other things do not have to go.)”
  • “It is critical that we see it as a key component of the curriculum, but if we only do it after school or as a special, then our kids see it as a nice thing, but not an essential thing. We have to make time for it and our kids need to see it as intentional and part of the critical work that we do. It’s not at the expense of the other things we do, this ties into everything and it’s the connecting piece.”
  • “We put a lot of energy into creating fake problems. Why not use real problems?”

“How Do We Build Fluency for Invention Literacy?”

Invention Literacy Core Convo (8)

  • “Just because you’re learning to write, doesn’t mean you are going to be a writer. You don’t have to be an inventor, but do we need to be able to deconstruct and reconstruct our world?” – Jay Silver
  • “Is literacy actually finding out about what we don’t know?” – Jeff Branson
  • “Is there an invention literature? Can we read it? Can we discuss it? Can we view it? Enjoy it? Can we modify it? Will a culture grow up around inventiveness and the human made world and the definition of what is possible? In that culture, is it cool/ playable to invent?” – Jay Silver (listen to this on the recording about 30 min in.)

What/ Where is Invention Land? What is a feature of Invention Land?

Jay’s question here references Papert’s address to Congress where he ask Congress, “If you have 90% of people coming out of French classes, not really speaking French, do you say, ‘Maybe those people don’t have a mind for French? It’s not our fault.’ But then if you take those kids and you grow them up in France, they’ll all be able to speak French. So in a math class if only 10% of them feel like they are a math person, or is there a place? Like math land? Where we can grow them up to be mathematicians?”

Invention Literacy Core Convo (2)

  • “You’d have to have the mindsets and tools be just as important as the tools for reading, math, etc.”
  • “If we grow these habits of mind when they are young, kids can carry them on to middle school and high school.”
  • “There would need to be a need for it. You learn French in France because you need it to survive. Right now, they need English just to pass a course. There needs to be an authentic need for invention for it to catch on.”
  • “Invention land means there is a time built in, and there is support from admin and leadership where teachers can be inventors too and they get a chance to explore, play, and learn. Because they need to be comfortable with setting up the environment where students can flourish.” -Leah Mann
  • “There is a culture that needs to be passed on. I run workshops the same for teachers as I do for students. They need to experience the fun.” – Jay Silver
  • “In Inventionland students will all say ‘Yes and’ instead of the word ‘but’ so it will allow for the continuation of an idea rather than the stopping of an idea.”
  • “Teachers need to be allowed to play and learn and do these things in Invention Land so they will be inspired to allow students to do these things as well. Teachers have to be learners first.”
  • “The stuff our kids make, does not have to be stuff that they sell. Every kid does not have to grow up to be an inventor, but they can still learn the literacy of invention.” – Me
  • “You need the environment where it is safe to fail even at the upper admin level.”
  • “You have a conversation with materials, and the people around you.” – Jay Silver
  • “There is no magic path to invention. Just like there isn’t a magic path to writing.” – Me

If you’d like, you can actually listen to the whole core convo below: (However, since some participants did not use the microphone, you will not be able to hear them responding and will have a few minutes silence dispersed throughout the recording.)

Slides and Resources from our talk are available here.

The World Needs More Inventors

Another great session that discusses the importance of invention literacy and creative constraints was The World Needs More Inventors, Starting with Kids (Unfortunately I missed the session in person, but thanks to SXSWedu and Soundcloud, I was able to listen to it later. And you can too below!)

Let Kids Learn the Way They Want to Learn – No Judgment

One of the most astounding a-ha moments I had listening to this session was when Emily Pilloton asked, What is the balance between constraints and freedom? Are you giving them a kit, or are you saying go invent something?” (This conversation starts about 35 min in on the recording.)

Danielle Applestone responded: “It depends on if there is judgement involved. Are we judging kids who want to do kits? Or people who need a little more guide rails? Are we measuring results? I oppose judgment. It’s fine for people to say, I’d like to work on this thing, can you help me? Do we give people constraints or total freedom? Sometimes people need constraints because the world is infinite and I can’t picture all the possibilities. So some constraints are good to get started, but if someone is rolling? Just let them roll. The more you can stand back and say, ‘They’ll come to me if they need something.’ That’s more important than following LEGO instructions (but that is also a satisfying exploration in its own way.)”

Liam Nilson: “It’s like the infinite library paradox. If there is an infinite amount of different books to read, how would you decide what to read? Unless you are super invention literate to start with, it’s hard to look at your whole makerspace supply shelf and know where to start. Especially if there is some hidden judgment there….. Sometimes constraints can be interesting too. If you are doing something with a group, and say you want them to make houses of cardboard and you can’t use tape or glue. Then kids will work together to find interesting solutions to get around those constraints. Conversely, if they are going to get an F if they help their friend, then you won’t see them exchange those kinds of ideas.”

Emily Pilloton: “I appreciate when things feel so constrained, you have to wriggle your way out….I give my students this specific set of guidelines, so that inevitably they find ways to try and break those rules…I want to set up conditions where they (my students) are negotiating what rules are breakable and what rules aren’t…. Constraints can actually open the door to immense freedom.” (You should listen to this full anecdote about 40 min in.)

Personally, I appreciate this open and honest conversation about a grey area of making. And I think one of the most important points in this conversation is that we as positive educators should not be passing judgement on others. If a student wants to follow LEGO instructions, let them. If they want to explore materials and never make a final product, let them. To refer back to my last reflection, as Patrick Benfield says, “All making is valid.” That’s why it is important we continue to have these conversations with other educators.

Here are some of my other favorite quotes from this session!

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