Fablearn: the most amazing conference you (probably) never heard of

30224546620_f06af41bfb_mThem: “What are you up to this weekend?”
Me: “Going to San Francisco for a conference.”
Them: “For the weekend? What conference?”
Me: “Fablearn, at Stanford.”
Them: “What’s ‘Fablearn’?”
Me: “Well, it’s…”

And so went many conversations as Fablearn 2016 approached. It would be my second time attending, but the first as a newly-minted Fablearn Fellow. So, while I had some idea what to expect, this was going to be an extra special trip.

Image credit: @chapmansar

Image credit: @chapmansar

Fablearn 2016 did not disappoint. My top 10:

  1. Watching world-class students present their work. (Here’s another. And another. And perhaps best of all, another.) I was also imagining my Northfield students on that stage some day.
  2. Listening to Edith Ackerman deliver a masterclass in educational theory in response to my comment about the importance of human centered design. (Fast forward the recorded livestream to about the 54 minute mark for the entire conversation.)
  3. Meeting and making friends with like-minded educators from around the world; also, trying (and failing) to find something low-carb to eat at a Chinese restaurant during dinner with the other Fellows.
  4. The multiple often accidental, but so inspiring, connections.
  5. Erica and Rich Halverson’s powerful closing keynote, a delightful and at times sobering back-and-forth between two incredibly smart, passionate, funny and thought-provoking speakers with often different perspectives on the same topic.
  6. Listening to researchers exploring assessment in makerspaces, including Ole Sejer Iverson, Professor at Aarhus University (Denmark), whose paper, Towards a formal assessment of design literacy: Analyzing K-12 students’ stance towards inquiry, was just published. Download it here.
  7. Seeing simple but powerful innovations that can make life as a maker-educator better, like, sewable, conductive lycra coin cell battery holders. You’re welcome.
  8. Learning how debugging an intentionally faulty e-textile is a great way to teach problem solving while you see what kids know about electronics.
  9. Moderating a panel on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and digging deep into their approaches, techniques and practices.
  10. Exploring the FabLab.

There were however some not-so-great parts…

  • Missing a fabulous workshop I was registered to attend – due to #9. (I at least got the laser-cut materials and can assemble my own lamp when I have time.)
  • Liquid Sunshine! It rained much of the weekend. California desperately needs it, so, I didn’t mind really, but, walking back to my car in a torrential downpour on the way to dinner, getting soaked nearly to the skin in the process, was not fun.
  • The food. To their credit, conference organizers asked for dietary requirements [I should have requested a delivery from In-N-Out], and the lunches were California-healthy, so, not really to my taste. (Not shown: my lunch, a CarbRite Diet Bar. Chocolate Brownie, of course.)
  • Information overload. Where’s my Matrix Headjack? Oh that’s right, DARPA’s not done with it yet.
  • The Red-Eye home wasn’t actually that bad. The flight was smooth; we landed almost 40 minutes early, allowing me to drive straight to work from Philly International, walking into my classroom at 7:00 am like any other day. Piece of cake…

All in all, it was an utterly fantastic weekend of learning, sharing and networking with hundreds of passionate educators and researchers from around the world doing cutting-edge work with kids and all sorts of maker technology.

I’d like to thank many people – but most of all Paulo Blikstein and Sylvia Martinez – for the opportunity to attend this conference on a scholarship, especially as a Fablearn Fellow. I’m very excited about the year ahead and the work we will all do together.

I’ll close with this provocation from Edith Ackerman:


Image credit: @McLargeH

How, indeed.

Let’s get to work.