Taking our Maps on the Road

A man in a baseball cap stood at a map and pointed to a blue sticky note affixed to New Mexico. “This is the canyon where I abandoned my PhD,” he said. He described being alone in the canyon conducting research for his dissertation, and realizing that he was spending all that time on one type of rock, and no one was going to care about it. When he walked out of the canyon, he said, he left the PhD behind him. He was tracing the moments in his life that led him to be in that conference room for the GeoConvos Teach-In at the 2017 Digital Media and Learning (DML) conference in Irvine, California.

This October, a delegation of GeoConvos team members — Ani, Ilana, Jacki, and I — travelled to  UC Irvine for the 2017 DML conference to share our work and hear feedback from colleagues. We lugged in our maps, sticky notes, pens, and a freshly-copied stack of Facilitator Guides, and prepared to share what we have been working on with people who care deeply about Connected Learning and digital tools.

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This October, a delegation of GeoConvos team members — Ani, Ilana, Jacki, and I — travelled to  UC Irvine for the 2017 DML conference to share our work and hear feedback from colleagues. We lugged in our maps, sticky notes, pens, and a freshly-copied stack of Facilitator Guides, and prepared to share what we have been working on with people who care deeply about Connected Learning and digital tools.

We began our teach-in session asking our attendees to think about a memorable place in their elementary schools. We wanted to start our conversation about place-based learning by reflecting upon where and how we learned in schools — institutions ostensibly designed for learning. We had a hunch that the places people remembered at school might also be places where meaningful learning took place, even if the learning wasn’t the kind of knowledge often associated with formal schooling.

Our participants shared touching, funny, and sometimes surprising memories. One described the church at his school, at the time the largest black Catholic school in the country, a place where spiritual lessons and the pastor’s stern admonitions shared space with assemblies featuring notable black leaders. Another described climbing the “big rocks” on a playground that, revisited years later “weren’t so big — they must have shrunk!” One participant described a jungle gym where she nurtured dreams of going to the Olympics with all her friends one day. Another told us of her trips to the principal’s office in her Catholic school in India, where she would be called upon to sing in her perfectly-accented German when nuns from the central convent in Germany made visits to the school.

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Our participants also shared with us some possibilities they see for the GeoConvos project.

  • Conversations about GeoBios and links between our past, present and future selves led to a suggestion to think about archiving convos in a way that youth participants could look back on them later
  • While we have mostly focused on GeoConvos within a single program, class, or community, we heard a suggestion to consider the ways in which place-based conversations could connect kids across a city, across many programs or contexts
  • Some participants suggested that GeoConvos have potential to help people build arguments about things their communities need and to expand people’s civic imaginations
  • We heard a suggestion to consider finding ways to connect museums that aren’t in large metropolitan areas like Chicago to GeoConvos — supporting educators and evaluators who do not have access to the same kinds of support networks that museums in places like Chicago might have

We will be excited to consider these possibilities moving forward, especially as we begin to work on the Advanced Facilitator Guide, coming Spring 2018!

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GeoConvos team members Ilana Bruton, Jacki Carmichael, Virginia Killian Lund, and Ani Schmidt are grateful to the Mozilla Foundation for funding our travel to DML 2017.

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