As the 2019 SXSW EDU conference rounded the bend into its final full day at the Austin Convention Center in Texas, attendees once again packed the fourth floor’s Ballroom D for a morning keynote. Today’s topic: America’s Reconstruction period following the Civil War and how that era still continues to haunt the nation 150 years later on historical, sociological and political levels.
Introduced by SXSW EDU Programming Manager Julia Shatilo, the session featured a discussion of these challenges between PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger, NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.
Learning about the truth that happened in reconstruction after the Civil War- keynote at #SXSWedu with @PBS Henry Louis Gates Jr, Eric Deggans, Paula Kerger - realizing how much we didn’t know. New series on April 9 on PBS pic.twitter.com/a8XcBrA8wY— Barbara Bray (@bbray27) March 6, 2019
The key takeaways: The history of the Reconstruction period can be seen as a cautionary tale for where the nation stands today, and that education in both history and social studies must challenge myths that persist in the lessons students are taught about previous events.
Back to reconstruction. Historically not taught well in school. Civil War always ended with Lincoln being shot, then for black people, fast forwards to MLk. Agreed. That’s what I remember about US history in school. #SXSWEDU— Sam Harris (@csamgo87) March 6, 2019
How much power have we given to the textbook companies when they directed the narrative around Reconstruction for an entire generation? How much power do we continue to give them? #SXSWEDU— Chad Heck (@4theloveofheck) March 6, 2019
Too many kids learn that reconstruction was a large construction project in the south. It rarely resonates that it was a moral reconstruction. #SXSWEDU— Bob Dillon (@drrobertdillon) March 6, 2019
We have the resources — how can we make school safety more proactive?
In an early afternoon session, Ontic Technology CEO and Co-Founder Luke Quanstrom led a discussion on developing more proactive school safety measures with Texas School Safety Center Director Kathy Martinez-Prather, Austin Independent School District Director of Health Services Tracy Spinner and Georgetown University adjunct professor Rich Marianos.
Within education, there's a common frustration that many of the school safety solutions proposed often involve further fortifying or arming schools, but school safety is a complex and broad topic, and there are modern technology solutions and other approaches that can prevent active shooter events.
Marianos, also a former assistant director with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said everyone from law enforcement to teachers and administrators often misses indicators of potential violence along the way. Putting together a proactive plan requires cooperation from all stakeholders, he said.
Spinner added that districts are paper-logged entities, even when it comes to data collection. A lot of people within the system, from teachers to nurses to principals, are collecting behavioral and mental health data and information, but the systems used often aren’t connected in any capacity. Connecting them is critical to ensuring this data is shared across all parties in a way that it can be acted on when patterns are noticed.
Martinez-Prather noted that districts are looking toward emerging technologies on this front and wanting to implement them, but the elephant in the room is access to resources. Tech is more costly in its early development, but as it continues to emerge, grow and become more affordable, schools will want and be able to access it. During incidents, one of the things schools and districts want most are better communication platforms and protocols, as many of these incidents share a common breakdown of communication between them.
Proactive data intelligence can help schools and districts engage athletic programs and other school groups to reach out to transitional students new to schools who might not know anyone, helping them fit in and develop a sense of community in their new environment, Marianos said.
From a personal perspective, he told attendees that when he led the ATF investigation following the Columbine shooting, agents began to examine the root of the problem and saw several points that could have been prevented with better intelligence. Among them: That the shooters had guns, that teachers had interactions with the students about their “trench coat mafia” and drawings, that counselors had knowledge of their destructive behavior, and that many parents also knew about the two.
At the time, however, there wasn’t a collection of this information and data to unite those observations and signal an intervention to prevent the tragedy.
“Everybody’s gotta be on the same page here,” he said, adding that he’s getting tired of everyone in Washington screaming that we’ve got to do something and nothing happens and that it's time for real, proactive policy changes. “I haven’t seen one change since that morning in April .”
Failing is part of life, but how can you help students understand that?
In another packed afternoon session, Margarita Geleske, Uncharted Learning's "chief evangelist" led a discussion with Glenbard East High School (Illinois) Business Education Department Chairperson Peter Hostrawser, Ridge High School (Texas) teacher Dana Jones, and Lake Forest High School (Illinois) teacher Joe Pulio on the importance of helping students (and, often, their parents) understand that failure is a learning experience and part of life.
While all three educators on the panel use Uncharted Learning's INCubatoredu program in their business/entrepreneurship classes, Geleske clarified early on that pitching the program wasn't the panel's intent — failing forward is a skill that applies across all subject areas.
Entrepreneurship, however, is a natural fit for this skill because of the goal of "getting to failure fast" when starting a new business. Doing so, after all, helps identify the weak parts of the business model and strengthen them for future success.
In the business sector, failure is seen as an opportunity to understand where one might have gone wrong (as long as that failure isn’t catastrophic), but in the traditional school sense, failure is looked at as a bad thing. Students, Hostrawser said, don't want to look like they don’t know what they’re doing, so educators have to teach them that it’s OK to fail and create a safe place for them to do that. He likes to set up the learning experience with students as “try to prove yourself wrong.”
Educators also have to address parents’ concerns, because they tend to be unhappy when they think their children have fallen short of expectations — with some even viewing anything but an A as failure.
Pulio added that it's important to teach students that feedback doesn’t equal failure. "I try to teach my students that we’re 'not doing school anymore,'" he said. "Sitting in a group and waiting for someone else to do something isn’t going to work."
Jones reiterated that giving students life skills is among the important parts of education, and that dealing failure is part of life and part of starting a business. And Hostrawser added that another challenge is that students don't want to fail again. But they have to learn the experimentation cycle of build, test, learn, apply and repeat. This ultimately builds skills in problem-solving, creativity, public speaking, teamwork and adaptability.
Reading Is Fundamental becomes exclusive home to LeVar Burton's Skybrary
Thursday also included an announcement from Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), the nation's largest nonprofit organization for children's literacy, that it is exclusively home to Skybrary, an interactive library of high-quality digital books and video resources from LeVar Burton Kids.
Skybrary is based on the Peabody Award-winning TV series Reading Rainbow that Burton hosted from 1983 to 2009. Its resources for children ages 2 to 11 include over 900 unique books, 150 video field trips, a parent dashboard, interactive animations to enhance the reading experience, and a K-3 supplemental Skybrary School service with standards-aligned lessons and teacher management tools.
"Skybrary provides an exciting array of opportunities for today's young learners to connect with fun and educational experiences that engage their minds and open their world to new possibilities," RIF President and CEO Alicia Levi said in a release. "We are honored to continue to work with LeVar Burton to provide this exciting offering to millions of children nationwide."
Keep an eye out in the coming days for Education Dive's full conversation with Burton and Levi from the show.
Project Unicorn and ISTE unveil ed tech buying guide
Closing out the day, we checked out a joint announcement from Project Unicorn and ISTE as they debuted "Better Edtech Buying for Educators: A Practical Guide" in a session that featured inflatable unicorns, a churro bar, and a broad selection of candy.
“We want kids to be producers in educational app environments. That’s where the power is. We want to push our kids and teachers further in their thinking about that.” -@curtmould @sunprairiek12 #SXSWEDU #SXSW19 cc: @projunicorn pic.twitter.com/yKNa50L2Ho— ISTE (@iste) March 6, 2019
The guide itself walks district leaders through aligning ed tech purchases with student learning goals and standards, the importance of research and evidence, ensuring data interoperability between applications as well as student privacy, addressing implementation challenges and providing ongoing support, and incorporating educators as purchasing partners.
Great presentation (and swag) by the folks @projunicorn 548 products is too many ????♀️I’ve heard this sentiment from teachers multiple times. There’s fatigue from the number of options. How do we help teachers pick the best choices for their students in a crowded landscape? pic.twitter.com/VhYMH1LZ4i— Mila Kuznetsova (@milameelah) March 6, 2019
More than 548 ed tech products are used monthly by districts with at least 1,000 students, making the process of discerning what works and what can be improved to better serve students and educators critical. And with ISTE's annual conference coming up in June and the tech procurement season kicking into high gear in the coming months, the guide's timing couldn't be better.