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Ideas From Our First IDEAcon

February 22, 2023 3:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

Ideas From Our First IDEAcon

by Tisha Richmond and Lainie Rowell

Have you ever walked into a space and immediately felt welcome and at home? Maybe you even take a deep breath and think, “I belong here.” That’s how we felt as we entered IDEAcon 2023. 

It was a first for both of us, and we couldn’t help but make the connections to ideas that we, as educators, can take from this event and implement in our learning communities. Here are some of our takeaways:

A Welcoming and Energetic Vibe
First impressions do set the tone and, at IDEAcon, both the space and the people are heartwarmingly inviting! Convention centers, like an empty classroom, can be pretty cold and impersonal by default. The way the IDEAcon team worked with the space is a direct reflection of how much they care about those coming to learn and share. Here were a couple of our favorite design choices:

  • Signage: When we enter a space for the first time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious. It sounds so simple, but making it clear where we can go and what we can do can make all the difference. Throughout the conference center large signs were prominently displayed in the conference theme to help us navigate our learning journey. (e.g. registration, session titles/times, and learning spaces options). 

  • Energy: The energetic vibe was palpable and it echoed in every space we entered. The colors and playful design evoked joy and laughter, conference organizers were welcoming and helpful, and attendees were excited to learn and connect. It was social and emotional contagion in the best way! 

Dr. Adam Phyall stands in front of the staircase at IDEAcon. The stair stickers create an image on the bottom from left to right of the IDEA logo, the IDEAcon logo, a hand with the pointer finger pointing up the stairs, and on the top of the image are the IDEA lightbulb, the Rival 5 logo, and a text box that says, “Welcome.”

Spaces to Gather and Spaces to Think Independently 

While we both advocate for inquiry and collaboration, we also know that some learners (us included) need independent-thinking time too. We appreciated that we could readily find spaces for both throughout the conference center. 

  • Collaboration: There were couches and sitting areas for small group conversation throughout the conference center and hotel. We loved that these spaces were close enough to get to easily, but tucked away from the session hallways so you could take a break when needed as well as gather at the end of a long day of learning.

  • Game Play: In the center of the expo hall was an area that would capture any board game players’ heart. Freestanding shelves stacked with a variety of game choices framed an area of round tables that were ready for play. Like video games instead? They thought of that too. An area was set up with couches, bean bag chairs, giant TV’s and video consoles. We loved how both areas allowed for connection, play, and an opportunity to recharge.

  • Makerspace: The Makerspace area was another brilliant space in the expo hall. Wood tables were ready for making. Shelves were stocked full of materials, drills, safety goggles, and more. Cricket machines were ready for creation. Each time we walked by, this area was buzzing with creative excitement. 

  • Zen Den: As wonderful as it is to connect and socialize at conferences, sometimes you just need a little time to step away from it all. This quiet room tucked away was the perfect place to find some solitude. We also love the backstory- The Zen Den was born as a result of asking self-identified introverts what they would like to see at a conference. 

A tweet from Tisha Richmond @tishrich that says, “This game area at #IDEAcon was incredible! What a brilliant idea for bringing educators together to connect and play! And, look at this selection of games to choose from! The mind blown emoji is after the text. #MLmagical. The pictures show Tisha in front of one of the game shelves, a game shelf on it’s own, and the tables in the Game On! play area with games at tables and attendees playing at tables.

Need more inspiration for a redesign? Check out this Edutopia article by Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray, Cheap (Yet Valuable) Learning Space Redesign.  

Encourage Prosocial Behavior and Amplify All Voices 

At this event, it is clear from the moment you get there that you are more than an attendee, you are a contributing member in this dynamic learning community. 

  • “Little Free Library” - One of the first spaces we noticed was all about promoting prosocial behavior. The “Take a book. Share a book.” space was inspired by the nonprofit, Little Free Library. This organization focuses on building community, inspiring readers, and expanding book access. Imagine having one of these on campus! 

The IDEAcon IDEA’s Little Free Library sign next to the table for people to take a book, leave a book, or to sit and read.
  • Meeting of the Minds - Each morning thought leaders, Mario Herraez, Alberto Herraez, Scott Bricker, Jeni Long, and Sallee Clark began with a Meeting of the Minds following the keynote. Each day focused on a different topic followed by questions that people discussed in small groups. Powerful conversations were had by all!

  • Poster Sessions - Sometimes you want to learn new ideas by chatting with your peers one-on-one. The poster sessions held in the ballroom allowed for discussion surrounding topics and areas of interest. It was a fabulous opportunity to make new connections and brainstorm ways to apply the ideas into classroom learning.

  • Podcasting Station - The podcasting area was another brilliant space set up in the middle of the expo floor. Podcasters could schedule a time to interview guests and amplify voices. It was also a wonderful opportunity for aspiring podcasters to chat with hosts to learn tips and tricks and discuss the best platforms and equipment.

  • Doodle & Chat - Outside of the ballroom Carrie Baughcum & Mandi Tolen interviewed conference speakers and attendees while they doodled the conversation in the style of their Doodle & Chat show. It was fun to be able to see the doodles in action as they projected it to be seen as people walked by. Another innovative way to amplify voices!

A tweet from Dr. Sawsan Jaber, NBCT @SJEducate that says, “Leyden student journalists..Day One [emoji checkmark]...Tune in for their video compilation tomorrow morning! @leydenpride212 @ideaillinois #IDEAcon.” The pictures show the student journalists in various places around the convention center at IDEAcon.

There are even more ideas we could share! And if you weren’t able to join this year, we encourage you to come and see for yourself next year!

Some of these ideas take more time, effort, and/or resources than others, but no matter what, we love being welcomed by warm smiles from people (kids and adults) who are genuinely happy to see us. And this doesn’t cost a thing! 

Can you bring any of these ideas into your space to make learners feel welcome, nurture a sense of belonging, and activate learning?

About the authors:

Lainie Rowell is an educator, international consultant, writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. She is the lead author of Evolving Learner, a contributing author of Because of a Teacher, and her latest book, Evolving with Gratitude, was just released. An experienced teacher and district leader, she is dedicated to building learning communities and her areas of focus include learner-driven design, social-emotional learning, online/blended learning, and professional learning. Since 2014, Lainie has been a consultant for the Orange County Department of Education's Institute for Leadership Development. Learn more about Lainie and see highlights of her work

Tisha Richmond is an innovative district Student Engagement & Professional Development Specialist, international speaker, Canva Learning Consultant, Canva Education Creator, podcast host, and author of the book Make Learning MAGICAL: Transform Your Teaching and Create Unforgettable Learning Experiences in the Classroom. Tisha is passionate about infusing joy, passion, play, and gamified strategies to immerse and empower our 21st century learners and make learning a MAGICAL experience for all!

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