Thought leaders in education descended on Austin, Texas, earlier this month to provide updates on their work, swap ideas, and share best practices during the annual SXSWedu conference. Many of the sessions focused on promoting educational equity through innovation and research-based practices. Here is an overview of a few particularly compelling sessions, including a policy forum on brain-informed education by Mindset Scholar David Yeager.

Policy Forum: Brain-informed education for all-Is it possible?

David Yeager, Abner Oakes

In a conversation with Abner Oakes, director of outreach & partnerships at the Alliance for Excellent Education, Dr. Yeager discussed current research that explores how brain development during adolescence can provide a period of opportunity for learning, and why neuroscientists should research questions that are relevant to practice. He described ways that neuroscience can provide valuable insights into the science behind learning mindsets and the interactions between mindsets and student behavior and performance.

Keynote: We got it from here…thank you 4 for your service

Chris Emdin

Dr. Emdin, associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, presented the opening keynote speech. His talk focused on educational equity and presented education as “the civil rights issue of our time.” He also stressed the importance of acknowledging and incorporating student voice into curriculum design and classroom practices. Further information on his talk can be found on EdSurge.

Panel: Forget what you know-The power of unlearning

Chris Dede, Jayne Everson, Marga Biller, Peter Hutton

This panel of researchers, school leaders, and educators discussed the importance of “unlearning” in educational settings. The process encourages students and teachers to examine their classroom practices and challenges them to approach problems in new ways. Expert math teacher Jayne Everson emphasized the importance of designing a classroom environment where students feel comfortable to “make excellent mistakes.”

Panel: Bringing diverse STEM role models to classrooms

Darrell Carson, Naomi Bonilla, Maribel Mendoza, Sara Seba

This panel described why it is so important for STEM students to have role models that they can identify with, and proposed low-cost ways for schools and districts to provide them. Suggestions included working with local businesses and encouraging them to match their employees’ volunteer hours working with STEM students, providing incentives in the community to volunteer with STEM students, and having a specific ‘ask’ for volunteers that relates to their area of expertise to increase buy-in.

Featured Session: The Big Apple’s big bet- Equity & excellence for all

Carmen Fariña, Ursulina Ramirez

This conversation between New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Chief Operating Officer Ursulina Ramirez covered the state of education in New York City and described current initiatives to improve educational outcomes for all students. Chancellor Fariña focused on the critical role of trust between and among teachers, students, communities, and school leaders in the process of making positive change within a school district.

Panel: The right balance- Equity in student discipline

Karega Rausch, Michael Petrilli, Naomi DeVeaux

How can schools create and implement discipline policies that are fair to all students? The panel grappled with that question during a lively discussion of ways to promote equitable discipline. The speakers reviewed evidence that African-American students tend to be suspended at higher rates than their peers, especially for more subjective offenses. Building strong relationships with students was cited as an effective strategy to improve equity in discipline. The presenters encouraged schools to ask themselves: “How can we be more intentional about getting to know our students?”

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