What Makes a Good Conference Session?

Posted: February 19, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about EduCon again and sessions in general. What makes a workshop, session, speaker good?

20080702 cookbook 03I recall reading a description of one reviewer’s process of reviewing cookbooks. This reviewer and cook was going to be on a panel discussion about several cookbooks. He described a conversation he had with another panelist in advance of the discussion. The other panelist asked him how many recipes he had tried from the cookbook in question and if he didn’t think it was critical to have tested most of the recipes. What the reviewer explained was that he was looking for inspiration. He gave an example: since there was a good-looking recipe for lamb stew, he made a lamb stew. He didn’t have or like some of the ingredients so he did something else, it brought back certain fond family memories, he enjoyed the stew, and was planning to speak positively about the cookbook. (I am so sorry I don’t have the reference to this. I did look, but it is probably several years old at this point. My best guess is that it was either in the NewYorker Magazine or the New York Times. If this rings a bell for anyone, let me know and I will put in a link.)

The memory of this article popped back up in my head recently. I have been thinking about EduCon and what I got out of each session. I didn’t take many notes this year, and I was thinking about this, wondering if that was a bad sign. But I’m a glass half full person. I’m putting a possitive¬†spin on this because I think it was a totally worthwhile event for me.

I am going with the cookbook review plan I mentioned above. I arrived at the conference, looked through the not-glossy handout of sessions, which I had already looked at online, and attended many different sessions. Like my unnamed cookbook reviewer, I sometimes came to a session because of a familiar sound to a topic and then found I lacked some ingredients I would need to use the recipe being described. But, it’s my job to take inspiration from these other teachers’ work, look around at my ingredients, and create my own version.

For example, I attended a session by Diana Laufenberg (@DLaufenberg), Zac Chase (@mrchase), and Rosalind Echols about an interdisciplinary unit they were teaching in high school at SLA. (Watch Diana’s TEDx talk.) I loved the maps tool that Diana showed that had links to all the students projects, I appreciated the spirit of adventure and risk taking that Rosalind displayed with her science fiction idea. I was heartened to hear about the time it took for the three of them to work together before they were comfortable enough with each other, their school model, and their students to attempt this level of collaboration. I am still thinking about some of the things they talked about. And, I teach neither high school nor science.

I also attended Yoon Soo Lim (@DoremiGirl), Kyle Pace (@KylePace) Elizabeth Peterson (@eliza_peterson), and Michelle Baldwin (@Michellek107) session about arts integration. I don’t teach art or music perse. I do talk about art in my social studies class (I like to dust off that art history major every once in a while). I got to see Michelle’s drumming circle, hear about Yoon’s choir and setting the constitution to music, and talk to others about the many challenges to true subject integration. Not only did these educators share their ideas, they also shared their desire to be included in the regular Ed classroom, their interest in being incorporated into the larder grade level planning. It made me think about not just the number of times I connect with my specialist subject colleagues but the way I do it. Do I just expect them to support my content? Am I seeking cooperation or true collaboration?

Cookbooks, or at least the ones I buy, also have beautiful pictures and sometimes I like simply to look at the ideal images of meals I know I will never make myself. It’s pure eye-cany and all about the unreal and the imaginary. There is something to be said for this kind of workshop session as well. Sometimes the presentation is ideas and discussion that goes well beyond the scope of my classroom. For me, that’s great too. I love a good sweeping, big-idea discussion that lets me think about what I would do if I got to be queen of everything education. An hour well-spent at a conference or unconference does not have to be about anything practical.

So I got to see all different lamb stews, or veggie casseroles if you prefer. Now, it’s up to me to make my version. I can take a little from here, a little from there, look at the raw ingredients at hand, consider what I can get a hold of, dream big and plan small. Not only does what I create not have to be the version I saw, it can’t be that version. I’m making it.

Photo by jspatchwork licensed under creative commons.

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