Dwight Hosts Education & Technology Conference
‘Inside-Outside’ schools and classrooms was the theme of the fourth annual TEDxNYED Conference, which attracted huge numbers of educators, parents, students, tech-junkies and education advocates who have a propensity to think outside the box. The conference, held at Brooklyn Technical High School and organized by the Dwight School Chair of Information Services and Technology Basil Kolani, highlighted the latest innovations in education and technology as well as pressing issues that affect the education system.
“With the calls for education reform, revamping programs to engage students more, and initiatives such as badging and open courses, it is the perfect time to put together a series of speakers who can address exactly what is being done to further teaching and learning both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Kolani. He and his team have organized the conference since 2009 to focus on education using the popular, established TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) model that invites experts from different fields to share their “ideas worth spreading” in short impassioned talks and demonstrations.
Dr. Gary S. Stager, an experienced and recognized educator, advocated for more student participation in the classroom and titled his talk, “Less us, more them”. To most educators that may seem ridiculous, but after numerous examples of project-based-learning techniques and positive outcomes of student ingenuity, the idea resonated with the audience as evidenced by intermittent applause. Stager stressed the importance of student innovation through minimal teacher involvement, which could be achieved by replacing guidelines and rules with broader project objectives. He advised them to treat their students as competent learners and to focus on teaching students to be good at something, rather than concentrating on the number of teaching hours spent on a topic or reaching curricular goals.
Teachers who spoke at the event shed light on a deepening crisis. Sabrina Stevens and Maria Rivera, educators turned activists, spoke about education policies that are stifling teachers’ creativity and leniency in the classrooms. Education policies are requiring teachers to give more standardized assessments and implementing rigid curriculums that are destroying the learning environment. “I want to make sure students are not being trapped beneath the same limitations that I work with [as an educator],” said Rivera. “Policy makers are not in the classrooms handing out exams and sucking the love out of learning right out of them.” As a result, many experienced teachers across the nation are resigning because teachers no longer teach, but do as they are told by policy makers, according to both Stevens’ and Rivera’s talks.
Other presentations revolved around the inclusion of technology in classes, which educators from around the nation hail as a success — robot-learning assistants, iPads and coding classes are new trends. Kristen Swanson, an educator and EdTech guru, said, “Viral ideas should be much more than funny music videos or cat pictures. Our lessons and learning should be viral in the classroom.”
Audrey Watters, a freelance education writer and blogger, challenged the supposed machine takeover occurring in our classrooms, raising ethical questions regarding robots in classes and adding a science fiction twist. “Are we building and adopting tools that might harm us?” She compared the usage of technology in education as “content delivery systems” analogous to The Matrix, where Keanu Reeves plugs a computer into his brain and immediately says, “Whoa, I know Kung Fu.” She eloquently argued the loss of humanity in education, which is fundamental to learning. “Indeed humanity and learning are deeply intertwined — intertwined with love, not with algorithms,” said Watters.
The conversation about education outside the classroom is an inventive and ever-changing one. For the adult learner, Brooklyn Brainery offers various and cost-effective classes on a multitude of topics. The classes are “community-driven” and “crowdsourced”. Jonathan Soma, who co-founded Brooklyn Brainery, had a vision to provide a learning environment that was accessible compared to the collaborative, yet pricey college experience.
For middle schoolers who are interested in learning outside the classroom, Math Munch is the answer. “A space for learning beyond the classrooms,” said Paul Saloman, an educator and coauthor of Math Munch, which is a weekly online digest of mathematical news, resources and games, all of which make math “fun”. The blog serves as a junction for children, mathematicians, and math hobbyists from across the nation. “We want to show them that there are lots of ways to bring math into your life … we want to provide mathematical experience … an engaging experience.” #