Heading South to Hang With the Education Rock Stars

A couple times a year I pay to attend conferences. South by Southwest® EDU (SXSW® EDU) is one of those events. The 2018 conference in Austin, Texas, starts Monday, March 5, and goes through Thursday — and I will happily be in attendance. Here's why...

In years past I've been fortunate to meet the cream-of-the-crop in advancing educational thought — people like Scott Swaaley, who is a centerpiece in the film documentary “Most Likely to Succeed.” Sam Patterson, known as "The Puppet Guy," has an astounding ability to translate maker education to young learners. Christa Flores’ work documenting technology, science and education is on display in North Carolina's library systems. And Colleen Graves, whom I expect to have a grand time with again this year, is one of the rock stars of libraries and education in America. 

Colleen Graves showing off an artifact of a design thinking workshop at SXSW EDU 2017

The list of amazing educators at SXSW EDU goes on, and every year I meet somebody new and fascinating. I expect this year to be no different.

Here are a few presentations I’m looking forward to this year:

Becoming a 21st Century District
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 5

I specifically wanted to include something for the administration-level people who might be reading this blog. Much of what I tend to gravitate toward is based on people's needs in the classroom. But possibly a more important adaptation and adoption role is met by those in administrative seats. I'm always fascinated to hear the challenges and ideas brought forth by administrators, and this panel looks as though it should be one of those sessions.

Inclusion in the Making: Maker Experience for All
5:00 to 6:00 p.m. March 5

Tyler Samstag is a Remake Learning ambassador implementing work across a number of settings in Pennsylvania through informal education as well as classroom practice. I'm interested to hear Tyler’s thoughts on how to use technology as tools of inclusion given his history with Scratch, his time at IDEO and his work in an impressive array of settings. 

Teach Artificial Intelligence in Kindergarten
11 to 11:20 a.m. March 6

The woman presenting this workshop is at Northwestern University, and the idea of introducing AI to a young set of children like this is fascinating to me. This is a very short session — only 20 minutes long  but who could resist the idea of mixing young learners and artificial intelligence?

Toy Hacking: Robotics for the Rest of Us
1:30 to 3:30 p.m. March 7

Sam Patterson put together an All-Star crew that will explore design thinking and layers of complexity through toy hacking. I have been through a couple of these workshops with Sam, and this started last year at SXSW, so I am looking forward to its continuation this year!

Me and Sam Patterson at the 2017 SXSW EDU

If you are staying in Austin for the SXSW Interactive Festival, happening March 9–18, SparkFun has a few presentations that are sure to be well worth attending:
  • Angela Sheehan and Melissa Felderman will be presenting an e-textiles workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 12. The details can be found here.
  • SparkX R&D Technologist Nick Poole will be giving a talk from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. March 13 on reverse engineering credit card skimmers. Get the details here.


I hope we cross paths if you are attending the conference this year! You can catch me on Twitter at @sparkfunEDU or @jeffbranson1 or my alter ego @hack_bear. Happy Trails!

Best chicken in Austin as sampled by a SparkFun crew.

Can't make it to Austin this month but looking to experience a hands-on workshop that will help you bring making and electronics-based projects to your students? Join us this summer in Boulder, Colo., or Virginia Beach, Va., for our famous Microcontrollers for Educators (Micro4Ed) workshop — or request a training at your own location! 

Save Your Spot for Summer PD