A Tale of Two Conferences (Part One, continued)

(This is a continuation of yesterday’s post)

True to the spirit of High Tech High, the Deeper Learning conference in San Diego featured several hands-on, minds-on “alternative sessions” such as:

  • Deep Dive and Equity Exhibition Dens, casual learning spaces to hear from leading thinkers in the deeper learning field
  • DL Makers Den for attendees to experiment with welding, 3D printing, vinyl cutting and more
  • The Friday “unconference” for impromptu conversations about topics suggested by attendees

The sessions on Day One of the conference, although all about deeper learning and equity (and many about PBL) were eclectic, and felt cutting-edge – take a look at the program. I stood in the back of a packed room for a session with the hefty title, “What do teachers with yesterday’s training need to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s challenges? Exploring Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Settings.” It was presented by Rebecca E. Wolfe of Jobs for the Future, Andrea Martinez of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Carmen Coleman of the Center for Innovation in Education, and Jean Garrity of the Institute for Personalized Learning at CESA #1.

The last half of the 90-minute session turned out to be focused on PBL. One of my key takeaways was that I was glad to hear them make the connection between personalized learning – another hot buzzword in education these days – and PBL. Expect a blog post digging into this topic soon.

And let me pause to share this, because it’s going to appear in my own presentations soon: a quote from Plato on a slide in the personalized learning session that shows the roots of PBL go back at least to ancient Greece:

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”     – Plato


On Day Two, attendees chose one ”Deep Dive” session to attend for the entire day. All sessions ended with an exhibition of our work for feedback from all conference attendees. Deep Dives included:

  • Design Your Dream Home was a project-based experience led by Ron Berger of Expeditionary Learning.
  • Designing Deeper Equity Learning for Adults, led by Tom Malarkey from the National Equity Project.
  • Deeper Learning Through a Global Lens, where Lisa Tyrell of the Asia Society talked about developing students’ global competencies.
  • BIE's Bob Lenz and Cris Waldogel helping school leaders learn to "Communicate a Vision for Deeper Learning Using Project Based Learning in Under 9 Seconds"

And one I really really wished I could have attended:

  • Chocolate: Bitter or Sweet? by Jessica Wood of EL Education, which had a social justice theme: “Participants immerse themselves in all things chocolate as they explore the politics, history, geography, and science behind this delectable treat.”

The deep dive and my colleagues Rody Boonchouy, Alfred Solis and I took was conducted by Stacey Caillier & Ryan Gallagher of the Center for Research on Equity and Innovation and the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. It was about improvement science, a “promising methodology for innovating, refining and scaling great ideas.” We tried various tools and protocols, including empathy interviews, idea-generation, and learning cycles, and were lucky to have other participants help us think about a problem BIE is wondering about: When teachers experience our PBL workshops, what prevents some of them from going back to their classrooms and actually implementing high-quality projects? (We gathered lots of ideas to inform our strategic planning this year.)

So, after two inspiring, deep-thinking, and joyful days, we headed to the airport and home – after a stop at the conference reception at Stone Brewing Company. And I’ve got to add, this event had the best food I’ve ever had at a conference. Those High Tech High folks know how to take care of their guests!

The Deeper Learning conference felt like a gathering of the tribe. Almost everyone knew BIE. The overall spirit was one of community and dedication to a cause we passionately believe in. Like PBL World, the event makes you feel that there's gathering momentum for PBL and the transformation it represents for students, teachers, and school systems.

Next week in Part Two I’ll tell the tale of my experience at the ASCD Annual Conference in Atlanta, which was very different, as you might imagine, but also inspiring.


Do you have questions or comments, or stories to tell if you attended the DL conference? Please enter them below.