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SXSWedu: Mindsets, Brain Science & Engagement

Written by: Celia Alicata, Director of Marketing & Communications

I attended SXSWedu last week with two of my colleagues, Anne Richards, VP product development, and Christina Oliver, VP partnerships. Aside from the heavy focus on data privacy, there were three major themes that caught our attention.

How can we make school interesting for kids?

The engagement gap is a real thing and people have long-discussed how to make school more enjoyable for students. We heard a deliberate, and unsurprising, push for using technology to create a truly student-centered environment (check out Institute of Play’s Quest to Learn school). One idea—which obviously is near & dear to our hearts at Classroom, Inc.—is game-based learning. Sessions discussed the power of games to motivate, engage, and provide students with immediate feedback on their abilities.

Kids need to be assessed, sure, mostly everyone agrees. But part of the problem is that we’re drilling students right out the school door. A panel between Anya Kamenetz, NPR education reporter and author of The Test, and Michelle Riconscente, director of learning and assessment at GlassLab, talked about the ability of game mechanics to show the thought process rather than just a score of right or wrong, potentially giving the teacher a lot more to work with (and a lot more information on how to make school relevant for individual students!). This is a nice segue for the second theme.

Why do students’ mindsets matter?

The pendulum is in full swing away from high-stakes testing to students’ mindsets and care for their social emotional learning (SEL). It almost seemed if you included “growth mindset” in your session description, you were sure to win a coveted spot on this year’s jam-packed schedule. It’s refreshing to hear this SEL talk. There’s a new website from the Raikes Foundation that is a free online resource for educators and parents to learn about growth mindsets and download activities. Panelists and attendees—from all types of backgrounds—acknowledged how powerful the mind is when it believes in its abilities. Again, a great segue to the last theme.

What’s the brain got to do with it?

Well, a whole lot according to many people at this year’s conference. Across the education community, there is a move to incorporate more brain science into learning science (read up on Daniel Willingham from UVA). One session, Transforming Schools Using Brain Science, demonstrated the sheer trauma that stress can cause on the brain and how that impacts learning. From homelessness, to abuse, to neglect, experts shared how the brain is a moldable, malleable muscle that responds to its environment. The question for the edtech community is how can tech address some of these challenges? How can communities leverage innovative tools to identify neighborhoods—and students—that are under the most stress?

Making school more engaging, encouraging healthy mindsets, and acknowledging brain science. Seems we might be getting serious about shifting our priorities to the student—the young, impressionable life in the education equation.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite tweets from SXSWedu to ruminate on: Jaime Casap, Google Education: “If all we do in edu is take tech and lay it on top of current system, we run the risk of making bad edu faster and more efficient. #SXSWedu”