Are you ready for the EAST Conference? Truth be told, we’re really not either. But we’re soooo close! We’ve hit that part of Conference preparation where the things to do are the “last minute things,” but somehow, like a chemistry experiment gone horribly awry, they just keep growing and growing…
Nevertheless, come Tuesday morning, March 14, the Hot Springs Convention Center will unlock its doors and the EAST universe will begin the move-in process that, a scant three days later, will reveal all of the power and majesty of giving students the opportunity to serve their communities by solving problems.
It seems like every year, this event has grown in scope and scale, and 2017 promises to maintain that tradition. If you’ve been keeping up with announcements and planning on the website (www.eastconference.org), you’ve seen some of that growth. We’ve had to rethink many things logistically and worked on finding ways to involve more students, more partners, more exhibitors, and more excitement. Without giving anything away, let me just say that there are some things planned for the Conference that we’ve never tried before, and we have some surprises in store for the participants and guests.
Of course, I have something of a unique perspective. I was part of the planning for the very first conference back in 2000. Like most things EAST, the conference grew out of some educational intentionality and some practical need.
In the earliest days of EAST we participated in someone else’s event. It was a good way to do two things: 1) expose our students to what the professionals were doing and 2) show some of our corporate supporters how their support was impacting our students. Everyone had a splendid time. Unfortunately, our group grew from one school bus load of participants to one charter bus load of participants to three charter buses to being told that this was not a “kid thing.” Ouch! But… yay!
Yay because we realized how powerful it was to gather everyone together and share the work that was going on throughout EAST to learn from each other at scale. So, with all of the naïve idealism that had gotten us that far, we determined to make an event of our own.
And look at us now! This year we expect roughly 3,000 students and over 500 adults to attend in one form or another. We’ll host more than 60 breakout sessions on topics ranging from using Unreal Engine to texture and light animations to coding in several languages to college and career readiness to robotics. Our UA Little Rock Tinker Space will feature cybersecurity challenges, 3D printing and mechanical troubleshooting at very high levels. Our Fusion and STEM Challenges will combine a party with problem solving. Our Technical Support Olympiad will showcase some of the most technically proficient students in the country competing in a challenge that is at once awe-inspiring and devilishly crafted to be maddening to those of us who are not as savvy in the world of bits and bytes. You can see the solution to the 2015 Conference TSO final puzzle on page 22 here to get a sense of what I mean.
Let’s not forget we also will host three large-scale events, including our Awards Gala. If you’re interested in these, you can tune in even if you can’t attend the conference. We’ll be live streaming them. Learn more about that at http://bit.ly/eastcon17live.
We’ve come a long way from that first conference, and this year will be just one more brief stop on the timeline of EAST.
The EAST Conference is a great opportunity to share the work of the Initiative, the schools that participate, and the students in its programs. It is also educational accountability at its highest. There is no better way for students to demonstrate their growth and mastery of the core EAST principles of self-directed learning, sophisticated technology integrated into community service projects, and collaborative efforts between students and their community clients. It is proof that EAST succeeds in its mission of providing all learners the opportunity to have relevant, individualized, life-changing educational experiences.
I hope you have the chance to see it.