Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Congress, A Chattering, A Charm of Conferences

Volunteers offer many forms of welcome
There are established terms for animal collective nouns, or groups of animals. More than a hundred wonderful, suggestive names convey the sound and massing quantities of a species together: a storytelling of ravens, a clutter of spiders, and a cackle of hyenas. With four conferences between April 28th and May 12th I have been wondering what a great convergence of conferences might be called. Finding no single term, I have settled on three that together carry many of the qualities of multiple conferences: a congress of salamanders, a chattering of starlings, and a charm of finches.

Children join the dialogue
• Saturday, April 28th, the Reggio-inspired Network of Minnesota hosted a community dialogue about learning. Threads of participation and many points of view ran through the day’s activities. Network members shared examples of their research on children’s learning.  In “Democracy and Community Making with Children, Families, and Educators,” Dr. Kay Cutler (SDSU, Brookings) shared reflections on her recent visit to Pistoia (Italy). Perspectives from a parent, a teacher, and me as a community member followed, launching a lively discussion around the value of actively engaging parents, teachers, and community members.

Volunteers, this way
• American Association of Museum’s annual conference, Creative Community, is in Minneapolis from April 29th through May 2nd. Along with many other Twin Cities museum professionals, I have volunteered during the conference. As a session monitor I have a new appreciation for the extensive organization that makes this conference for 4,000 run smoothly. As a local, I have the pleasure of sharing some of the Twin Cities’ exemplary early learning resources with colleagues from around the country. As an attendee, I have been invigorated by insights from session speakers that are sparking questions for the coming year. As always, in the remarkable way conferences connect people, I have enjoyed serendipitous encounters with colleagues and strangers that give life meaning.

• May 9th the Association of Children’s Museums hosts Reimagining Children’s Museums Leadership conference in Portland (OR). This kick-off to a three-year exploration of 21st century possibilities for children’s museum brings together thought leaders in design, philanthropy, technology, and education with museum leaders, and four interdisciplinary design teams. Without knowing quite what to expect or where we are headed, I am excited, curious, and look forward to being invigorated.

• ACM’s annual conference in Portland (OR) from May 10-12 is the 23nd (or 24th) InterActivity I have attended. I have come to look forward to the Pecha Kucha as a lively kick-off to the gathering. Preparation for my two Reggio-inspired sessions has been, well, inspiring. Join me at: Shaping Children’s Museums with Reggio Ideas (Thursday, May 10, at 10:30 AM) and Listening to Children, Learning From Reggio (Thursday, May 10 at 2:45 PM.)

As I talk with colleagues, listen in on and facilitate sessions, engage in discussions, and enjoy the fortuitous encounters with colleagues in these cities and settings, I am keeping an ear to learning about shifts in thinking and practice related to several areas. Please let me know the resources that inspire you; the thinkers you find helpful; the ideas that fortify you; and the questions you have.

Museums and public value. What questions are museums asking about public value for their stakeholders? How are museums positioning themselves to take advantage of both opportunities and challenges to increase their public value?

Linking early learning across contexts. How is early learning crossing contexts to network museums, schools, community, after-school settings, and professional groups to coordinate efforts, close gaps in research, and get traction?

Environments for young children. How can we offer better thinking about environments for young children–settings that reflect who they are, leave room for their thinking and exploration, and offer new kinds of beauty? 

The benefits of play. How are museums effectively articulating and demonstrating the benefits of play to stakeholders who are gatekeepers for policy and funding?

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