Group A, Thursday, 10:30am

  • One man's journey from "in the box" rigid schooling to his own not-for-profit global warming organization

Douglas E. Wight

The benefits and drawbacks of a traditional american education system, struggling with "doing what I can do," as opposed to doing what my heart and soul want to be doing. Getting on the right path to discovering knowledge wisdom and enlightenment. Realizing one's true inner work: understanding the dire threat of global warming, and helping to slow and stop it. 

Graduated from Gettysburg College with a BA, graduated from Indiana University with two MS degrees in Administration of Health and Physical Education and the Administration of Municipal parks and recreation. Taught public school for 10 years and coached 5 high school sports. Executive Director of the Meadowlands YMCA in Rutherford NJ. Holistic Wellness consultant for small businesses, 26 international political, social, and environmental activist and independent journalist with an international press badge. In 2010, I became the founder and president of the National Alliance Of Concerned Americans for the Well-Being of all people and Earth INC.

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s E’mile: Roots of Today’s Alternative Forest

Kirk Cunningham

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s seminal work, E’mile provided a significant critique of conventional education. Within this work fundamental revolutionary concepts were enunciated, many of which can be seen in today’s vast array of authentic alternative learning environments and philosophies; however, many of these concepts remain far beyond the construct of conventional schooling. Take part in a lively discussion of both the seeds which bear fruit and those which continue to await germination, examining the specifics as well as the implicit constructs of E’mile.

Kirk is a 20+ year educator who has taught in “At-Risk”, “International Baccalaureate”, and “Traditional” urban and suburban classrooms in the Southern and Midwest U.S. Personal experience transforming a public (all students expelled and confined to an “alternative” site) 6-9 grade classroom into a Free School space motivated dissertation research documenting an external K4-12 grade Free School model within a diverse urban space. He continues research while facilitating others’ research which can be useful to expanding the AERO revolution. He aspires (post PhD) to also work with young teachers, exposing them to the vast world of authentic alternative learning philosophies.

  • Progressive Approaches to Standardized Testing

Zachary Katz

This workshop will explore student-centered approaches to standardized entrance exams (SAT, ACT, GRE…) from the perspective of a professional test-prep tutor. A few simple methods that allow students to handle these reductive exams with awareness will be presented. Discussion and insights about the nature, validity, and iniquities of the exam will follow. While exam reform, or elimination is a goal, this workshop will focus on how to handle the tests should one choose to do so.

Zachary Katz has been teaching students about the SAT since 2005. In those years, he has studied progressive approaches to preparing for the SAT. He wrote his Goddard College masters thesis “Teaching Learning: What the philosophies of progressive education have to contribute to education as a whole” to explore the effect of progressive approaches in conventional settings. His book The SAT for Progressives is scheduled to be published in June 2014.

  • The Power and Potential of Holistic Education

Connie Giffin

Our Children, Our Future was a two and a half year global research project, conducted by a seventy-one year old Granny who traded her financially shaky rocking chair for Greyhound and Global Eurorail passes and flew off on a shoestring budget to uncover the very heart beating beneath the holistic education framework. Seeking out the most innovative models, some with thirty plus years’ successful experience, revealed this “heart” lies in thirteen supporting core essences, arranged into six related groupings: (a) ancient wisdom, consciousness, and peace; (b) culture and the arts; (c) biophilia and biophilic design of the built environment; (d) emerging industries: (e) parents, teachers, and administrators; (f) humanism and spirituality, upon which this approach may evolve. While the holistic orientation is expressed through the experience of its diverse models as they fulfill their individual needs, an unexpected result was exposed. These models fill a higher purpose in their process: providing grass roots solutions to major global issues. The participant’s stated purpose also correlated with the number of core essences they embrace: the higher the purpose, the greater number of core essences, with the exception of one dual-purpose institute. This presentation explores the heart of holistic education within which lies the power and potential to change a life, a society, a nation, and the world.

Connie Giffin holds a unique perspective of holistic education. Having been the high achieving, struggling product of the traditional transmission model through primary and secondary schools, she later in life had the privilege of experiencing a self-directed Prescott College higher education. A corporate world resignee, an entrepreneur, architectural designer and contractor, she was the only nationwide mortgage broker financing “earth friendly” homes for nine years prior to the financial collapse of 2008. Seeking a new life direction, she returned to Prescott College, earning an MA in Experiential Education in May, 2014. It was here she received her BA in Psychology with an emphasis on Mind, Body and Spirit Healing in 1999. An artist and author, her first two books are currently underway. A resident of Prescott, Arizona, her new home will be in Ecuador where she aspires to contribute to transformation of the educational system.

Group B, Thursday, 1:30pm

  • Technology’s Role in Self-determined Learning


Rocco Ricci

Within this interactive session, I would like to focus on how I and others in the session integrate technology, the internet and social media into our daily lives. How does interaction through technology help learners learn in unique ways. Coming from a holistic frame of mind that insists we begin with ourselves, participants will learn about interesting social platforms that can help learners gain new knowledge and meet others interested in similar topics.

Rocco Ricci is a PhD candidate in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.  He is interested in how learning is transforming with the aid of technology.  Specifically, Rocco is interested in how learners can use existing and emerging technology to assist their own self-determined learning.  He is also interested in democratic and informal learning. Rocco is inspired by a variety of leading alternative education thinkers including John Holt, Carlo Ricci, and John Gatto.

  • Respect in The Early Years:  Learner centered education 0-5

Jennifer McDonald

This workshop will focus on young children, infants, toddlers, and preschool. We will discuss some of the important brain development that occurs in young children and how learner centered relationship based experiences are ideal for early growth. Once we have reaffirmed our goal of respectful educational experiences for everyone, even the youngest citizens, we will talk about how to make that a reality. We will discuss as a group some of the challenges and possible respectful solutions to supporting young children to drive their own learning. Before we close we will discuss how to help others see children under five as real people, competent people. and able people with the right to respectful learner centered experiences.

I am the owner and director of Our Neighborhood CDC, a small Reggio-inspired infant toddler child development center. As an early childhood educator, I work to support families and teachers to be intentional, respectful, and reflective in their work with children. I work with families, teachers, young children, and our community with the goal of creating the best possible experience for children zero-to-three that spend their days away from their families. Our program is strongly based in respect and community, which is why I look forward to becoming more involved in AERO.

  • Supporting Education Through Community Engagement

Sienna Wildfield

Identifying and interpreting the embedded learning found in our communities, curating the information, and making it accessible to parents, non-traditional and traditional educators, empowers families to engage in community-based learning. In this workshop I will share examples of, and participants will have hands-on experience with, identifying community-based learning opportunities and interpreting their educational value. Participants will work together in small groups to form a simulated town/location, and then identify the potential community-based learning opportunities and resources that could potentially exist or be created through collaborations. Participants will walk away with an understanding of and skills in how to identify and create community-based learning opportunities, how to curate the information, and how to connect and encourage families to participate.

Sienna is the Founder and Executive Director of Hilltown Families (, an award-winning online grassroots communication network serving thousands of families living throughout western Massachusetts. Founded in 2005, Hilltown Families believes in creating resilient and sustainable communities by developing and strengthening a sense of place in our children and citizens through community based education and engagement. Sienna is a board member of the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, Executive Producer of the Hilltown Family Variety Show (103.3FM Northampton, MA), a life-long activist, a mother, and an active community member living in West Chesterfield, MA. See Sienna’s TEDx Talk, Supporting Education Through Community Engagement:

  • Supporting the Unschooling Journey

Amy Childs

Unschooling parents face unique challenges.  Although most families discover that this can be a relaxing and enlivening way to raise their children, most also face many personal trials and difficulties along the way.  Without a strong system of support, unschoolers can find themselves feeling isolated, confused, and filled with self-doubt. This workshop addresses concerns that arise through an unschooling journey, and will include group discussion for parents looking for encouragement, ideas and friendly companionship along this sometimes lonely and confronting path.

Amy has worked as a happiness consultant, a professional organizer, a financial- and life-coach, a homeschooling mentor, and group facilitator. In 2001 she gave her children (then 8, 10 and 13) the freedom to choose their own educational path.  They are now all honors students and graduates of university, leading successful happy lives. However, she is quick to add that their 4.0s are not why she is proud of them, but instead she is proud of their curiosity, honesty, emotional intelligence, insight, courage, creativity, compassion, hilariousness and that that they all seem to actually really like her.

  • Teaching Styles and Student Empowerment

Liz Simpson

Just as learners have different learning styles, teachers have different teaching styles (Green, 1978; Fenstermacher & Soltis, 2009; Imig & Imig 2006; Reeve, 2009; Stanton & Hunt 2009).  Often the teacher’s style is partly developed from their inherent “teacher temperament” and partially dictated by either their teacher training program, the culture of the school or district they are teaching in or by personal experience as a student and what they believe a teacher is supposed to do (San Martin & Calabrese, 2011). This presentation will look at three distinct teacher styles and how each teacher style relates to fostering student empowerment in the classroom. Participants will have an opportunity to take an informal screening to identify their “teacher temperament” and identify which teaching style is their dominant style.

Dr. Liz Simpson has over 30 years experience as a K-12 educator, college professor, teacher educator, special educator, researcher and consultant.  Liz started her career as a teacher in an alternative school for court adjudicated youth ages 10-18. It was there that she learned from her students the importance of student empowerment. Liz has spent her career helping new and experienced teachers get in touch with how to best serve the needs of their students.   

Group C, Thursday, 3:30pm

  • Agile Learning Centers: Self-Directed Learning for the 21st Century

Tomis Parker and Nancy Tilton

This workshop will introduce Agile Learning Centers — an open-sourced education model that uses best practices from Agile Software Development to support self-directed learning and intentional culture creation. In this workshop we will discuss:

  • What is “Agile” and where did it come from?
  • Personal experiences working with democratic/free schools and the motivation for creating this new model
  • Various practices and structures that are currently used in our Agile Learning Centers
  • The importance of intentional culture hacking in the context of self-directed learning communities 

Tomis Parker is not a fan of writing in the third person. Hi, I’m Tomis. I’ve been working with alternative education models for over five years, with the bulk of that time spent in a “free school” setting. After spending a year exploring the EdTech scene and learning about Agile methodologies, I decided to join a team of people to create a new model for self-directed learning communities. I am currently managing the first Agile Learning Center in Manhattan and holding coherence for the larger network we are creating. I like long walks on the beach, hoppy beer, and I can hang with Jerry Mintz on the ping pong table.

Nancy Tilton founded The Mosaic School in Charlotte, North Carolina. She started her career teaching public schools for three years and then helped start a small Quaker school for the following three years before finding AERO in 2012. After learning about democratic education through AERO’s school starter course, she started The Mosaic School in January of 2013. Currently the school has 16 students serving the ages 5-12. TMS started as a democratic free school and is currently transitioning to rebranding as an Agile Learning Center. When she’s not running a school, she loves to do crossfit, go for runs, or do pretty much anything outdoors. 

  • Hair-Tugs, Laughs, and Tears: Embracing Big Feelings.

Angela Sillars, Rosie Frost, Antonia Chihuahua

Education is all about trusting children’s intelligence. Listening to and understanding emotional intelligence is a fundamental part of that education. In this workshop we will explore ways of supporting a range of big feelings: rage, sadness, disappointment, excitement, joy. Through examples and interactive discussions, we will examine the way we view emotional vulnerability, so that we are better able to provide support and facilitate conflict resolution. In order to do this work, it is valuable to acknowledge our adult feelings. We can then be present with children and have trust in their natural development. Respecting the range of child and adult feelings allows us all to work, learn and grow together.

Angela, Antonia and Rosie are teachers at Play Mountain Place (PMP), a humanistic alternative school located in Los Angeles, which was founded over 60 years ago.

Angela has been interested in student-directed education since the third grade.  She is interested in helping teachers and parents facilitate child-led play and student-directed learning, and hopes to help create stronger emotional support for children and the adults who work with them.

Antonia is currently a student, teacher, volunteer, and dancer. Her educational background consists of early childhood core units, and has been supplemented practically by her two-year internship at Play Mountain. She volunteers at a non-profit organization aiming to raise environmental awareness to Los Angelinos.

Rosie has always loved to play. Since the age of five, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. Yet finding an alternative and child-directed space in Play Mountain Place has been both a revelation and the fit to her oddly-shaped puzzle piece. She is now a teacher, an activist, a storyteller – and she still loves to play. 

  • Becoming Self-Directed: Developing Your Personal Health Story Into a Narrative.         

Carol Nash                   

This workshop will introduce one method of moving from self-expression to self-direction that has been very successful in the History of Medicine Interest Group at the University of Toronto.  Participants will be asked to bring a story personally relevant to their health or ill-health to the workshop.  They will recount their story to the group and together the group will offer possibilities for how each participant might be moved forward to develop a particular narrative point of view about their story.  In beginning this primary research of themselves, participants will have found a method for moving beyond self-expression to self-direction.

A self-directed learner, I became a teacher in 1981 to further self-directed learning. My 1989 doctoral thesis was “Intelligence, Public Education and Democracy.” Employed at the University of Toronto as a graduate program developer until my first child was born in 1996, 2007 I co-founded Alpha II–a public unschool for teens in the Toronto District School Board–with a group of parents from ALPHA Elementary School. Both my children attend Alpha II. Currently, I am a Scholar in Residence in the History of Medicine Program at the University of Toronto and co-facilitate a weekly History of Medicine Interest Group.

  • Learn Local & Build Your Community Network: Best of Buffalo Urban Immersion 

Megan Mills Hoffman

Young people today are comfortable navigating the world through many online social networks. But rarely are they able to explore, experiment, and test their interests within the network of their local community. What can we do to help foster these opportunities for all students who crave personalized learning? The Best of Buffalo Urban Immersion was created in 2013 to introduce young people to a variety of unique opportunities in Buffalo, New York.  Learn how to establish a community network in your neighborhood, while moving the education revolution forward. Participants will gain tools and strategies for accessing their own local resources.

Megan Mills Hoffman, Alaskan-born and educated, left the classroom for an unstructured, informal, self-directed education for grades 5-12, returning as a college student with a personalized transcript and admission to an out-of-state four year university honors program with a full tuition scholarship. She has since worked in college admissions, registrars, and development offices for two state universities, a state college, and a private university, completed a B.S. in Sociology, and built twenty years of experience working in community development and grassroots organizations. Since moving to Buffalo, NY nine years ago, she has embraced, developed, and established a variety of local social movements.

  • Sustainable High School Change

Carolyn Albracht, Elisabeth Reinkordt, Ana M. Rivero

What could and should high school be in a specific locale? Sustainable high school improvement that aids all students requires changes in teaching and in social expectations, challenges to existing distribution of resources and expertise, and alignment of change efforts across tiers so that differently situated actors (teachers, principals, superintendents, etc.) pull in the same direction. Join a discussion with four doctoral students (an art teacher, a science teacher and an education policy expert/film-maker) to learn about and contribute ideas to such possibilities.

Carolyn Albracht: current doctoral student in Education Studies, former K-12 Art Teacher and informal art educator. Elisabeth Reinkordt: documentary filmmaker, currently investigating the relationship between mass media coverage of education and the crafting and implementation of education policy. Her 2010 documentary, When We Stop Counting, features six Latino high school students in Crete, NE, who were each given cameras to participate in telling the story of their town's demographic change.

Ana M. Rivero: PhD graduate student at UNL in Teaching, curriculum and learning. Former high school chemistry teacher and head of the science department at a private high school in Mexico.

  • Ready, Set, Teach: Preparing to Teach in an Alternative or Democratic School

Dr. Loren Thomas

In this workshop we will examine the competencies and dispositions that are needed to work successfully in an alternative educational program. In addition, we will explore a variety of forms of academic preparation to work in alternative settings. Throughout, we will focus on meeting the needs of students in alternative educational settings as well as working within the wide variety of cultures of alternative programs. The workshop will be a combination of presentation, discussion and experiential activity.

Dr. Loren Thomas has served as a teacher, founder and principal of alternative educational programs in several public school districts in NJ. He was also the director of a small private school in Costa Rica. After 27 years in public education he retired from being a school district superintendent and is now the Director of Professional Preparation Programs at Prescott College in AZ. Dr. Thomas holds a BA in Classics and masters degrees in Philosophy, Religion and Education. He holds the Ed.D. degree from Seton Hall University.

Group D, Friday, 10:30am

  • Decentering Child-Centered and Learner-Centered Education 

Richard C. Pipan 

The terms "child-centered" and "learner-centered" are veritable cultural memes prominent within the alternative education movement. These orientations underlie a very broad range of alternatives: independent schools, home schooling, deschooling and unschooling. Whether conservative, liberal or progressive, these "person-centric" orientations may, indeed, properly direct our attention to the ethical and experiential dimensions of educational interactions; however, if one attends to the curriculum theorizing of Dewey, Counts, Vygotsky, Neill, Freire, hooks and Jensen, the "person-centric" orientation becomes problematic—it becomes, at best, a necessary but not sufficient consideration, not a panacea for miseducation. While I respect the efforts and accomplishments of many alternative educators, I am concerned that their focus on child/learner centeredness, obscures massive systemic and structural forces (corporatization, militarization, religious fundamentalism, etc) shaping the socio-cultural context within which our alternatives exist. I would welcome an opportunity to engage in a round-table type discussion with passionate proponents of child/learner centered pedagogies. Such a discussion might lead to our respective considerations of the adequacy of our curricular and pedagogical theories and

Richard Pipan is Associate Professor of Education at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. His teaching and research address: human development, curriculum theory, environmental justice, progressive education, university-school partnerships, and teacher education.

  • Free School & Authentic Alternative Learning Settings Research Methods & Challenges

Kirk Cunningham

Last year’s large turn-out and robust response beckoned a follow-up workshop. We will engage in facilitator sharing of his research methodology as well as group conversation focused on emergent research methodologies which honor the divergent philosophy of Free Schools as well as other authentic alternative learning settings. Let’s explore the potential of conventional qualitative methods as well as emerging forms of research which may contribute to “spreading the word” to a broader audience including academia, as well as supporting the growth of existing Free Schools & other authentic alternative learning settings.

Kirk is a 20+ year educator who has taught in “At-Risk”, “International Baccalaureate”, and “Traditional” urban and suburban classrooms in the Southern and Midwest U.S. Personal experience transforming a public (all students expelled and confined to an “alternative” site) 6-9 grade classroom into a Free School space motivated dissertation research documenting an external K4-12 grade Free School model within a diverse urban space. He continues research while facilitating others’ research which can be useful to expanding the AERO revolution. He aspires (post PhD) to also work with young teachers, exposing them to the vast world of authentic alternative learning philosophies.

  • Is There Critical Mass to Create a College AERO Caucus?

David Marshak

Last year at the AERO conference, we held a session to explore this same topic. There seemed to be interest and motivation, but we ran out of energy because we lacked clear ways to engage the various colleges that could relate to AERO’s mission. If you teach or work in a post-secondary institution and are interested in this question, come and join us in a conversation about the future of a potential College AERO Caucus.

David Marshak is the founding president of the SelfDesign Graduate Institute. He is the author of The Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness (1997, reissued 2014) and Evolutionary Parenting (2014.) David has supported the learning of people from 4 to 84 in many diverse learning environments over the past 40 years. 

  • Staying Conscious as a Homeschooling Parent

Connie Allen, M.A.

Homeschooling is wonderful in many ways – greater freedom and choice, time with parents, less stress and pressure, greater emotional and physical safety. Yet Homeschooling parents and children spend so much time together, and much of the success for both children and parents depends on the parents’ awareness of their own beliefs and emotional issues. Many parents navigate these waters well. Yet everyone has emotional issues and awareness of these are crucial in how you relate with our chilld.  I have coached many homeschooling parents who struggled with on-going challenges with their children. This workshop provides effective, do-able insights and strategies to help homeschooling parents avoid or get out of emotional ruts with their child.

Hi! I’m Connie Allen, aka the Joyous Family Coach. I have been coaching  parents and educators for over 30 years and empowering young people longer than that. With an M.A. in psychology and 14 years teaching children of all ages, my passion is to share the ingredients that nurture children’s Inner Brilliance and that create truly joyous relationships with our precious young people. My best teachers are my cherished  son Orion, my  two amazing grandchildren Sebastian and Madison, and all the young people who have trusted and guided me along the way.

  • Reading from A School Must Have a Heart, With Book Signing to Follow

Chris Mercogliano

We will begin with a 20-minute reading from my just-released book A School Must Have a Heart. It's a short essay I wrote called “The Dragon at the Top of the Stairs” that describes a right of passage experience for young children at the Albany Free School, whereby they write down deeply-held supplications and then attempt to deliver them alone to the doorstep of a real dragon's lair. Following the reading we will discuss the themes of the essay, and then I will hang around at the end to sign books.

Chris Mercogliano was teacher and director of Albany’s Free School for over 30 years. He has written many respected books, such as Making It Up as We Go AlongHow to Grow a School: Starting and Sustaining Schools That Work, and many others.

  • Open Shop at Parts and Crafts & the Center for Semi-Conducted Learning

Kelly Taylor, Will Macfarlane, Katie Gradowski, Bryce Taylor, Kieran Mead-Ward, Zach Hirschtritt

We will bring the P&C experience to the conference. We'll bring a bunch of our boxes of supplies and be ready to show people how to make Bristle Bots, Drawing Robots, Drawdios, LED flashlights with reed switches (they use magnets!), dynamos, motors, trebuchets, boffer swords, or anything else that can be made with glass beads, popsicle sticks, hot glue, pvc pipes, electrical tape, coin batteries, LEDs, capacitors, glitter, wire, etc. We'll bring as much stuff as we can fit & make a GIANT mess. It's what we do every day! THIS IS FOR HUMANS AGE 7+!! Please NO babies or kids under 7. We work with power tools, hot glue, soldering irons, and other sharp objects.

The Parts and Crafts Collective is a group of thinkers, teachers, and tinkerers in the Boston area who are interested in helping people build, think, create, succeed, fail, and learn. We run hands-on creative arts, science, and engineering programs for kids and adults to help people learn and do and make things.  We have two primary and related interests: self-directed learning and the creative application of technical skills.  We create spaces and communities and structures to help kids figure out what they want to learn and do, figure out how they can fulfill these desires, and then help them do so.

Group E, Friday, 1:30pm

  • AERO School Starter Workshop

Jerry Mintz and Chris Mercogliano

AERO has helped start over 50 new educational alternatives, schools and homeschool resource centers, etc. This is in line with our mission of creating an Education Revolution in which learner-centered education will become available for all students. Every fall we have an online school starters course with an average of 25 enrollees. This workshop is for anyone who is interested in starting a new educational alternative. We will talk about the basics of starting a new alternative and talk to as many attendees as possible about their visions, giving suggestions and resources.

The workshop will be coordinated by Jerry Mintz and Chris Mercogliano, with other possible guest resource people. Jerry Started and directed his own school for 17 years. His first school is still running after 45 years. He is the founder and director of AERO and co-editor of Turning Points: 35 Visionaries in Education Tell Their Own Stories, as well as No Homework and Recess All Day: How to Have Freedom and Democracy in Education. Chris Mercogliano was teacher and director of Albany’s Free School for over 30 years. He has written many respected books, such as Making It Up as We Go Along, How to Grow a School: Starting and Sustaining Schools That Work, and many others.

  • An Introduction to SelfDesign

David Marshak

SelfDesign is a contemporary expression of the same profound, evolutionary insight into human potential and human unfoldment that guided Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, Sri Aurobindo, and A.S. Neill: humans at every age can lead their own learning; we can author our own lives. This workshop will give participants an introduction to SelfDesign with a focus on both insights and tools that Brent Cameron and colleagues created in framing SelfDesign; the Life Spiral; the Learning Paragon; and the Learning Domain Mandala. Participants will also learn about current applications of SelfDesign in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

David Marshak is the founding president of the SelfDesign Graduate Institute. He is the author of The Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness (1997, reissued 2014) and Evolutionary Parenting (2014.) David has supported the learning of people from 4 to 84 in many diverse learning environments over the past 40 years. 

  • The Limbic Loop:  Listening Partnerships and Parent/Teacher Resource Groups

Brenda Ilowit

Exchange time to listen with uninterrupted time to think with the support of confident listeners.  We know what we want to change and still stresses (and triggers) interrupt us and then we teach/parent the way we were taught/parented.  Even when we facilitate with presence, there are moments when our attention is taken away or we suppress negative emotions.  When we take scheduled time to express ourselves (release the suppressed, investigate our triggers, maybe tell that childhood authority what we needed to say) with supportive listeners, who trust us to work it out ourselves, then reactions shift, narratives become cohesive and patterns change. 

I have worked at The Patchwork School for 3 years where I am currently K-12 Lead Teacher, Parent Outreach Coordinator, Student/Parent/Teacher Counselor and Co-Lead of our Communications Workshops along with the Founder/Director.  I am a Parent of two and a Certified Hand in Hand Parenting by Connection Instructor.  I was the Art Director of Trash for Teaching, LA where I delivered Reggio inspired programs to children in many settings. I worked as an Artist/Instructor for Studio in a School, NYC where I offered and exhibited student centered art processes that represented personal and community experience and experiential learning. I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts, a Certificate in Art Therapy and K-12 Art Teachers License. I have been collaborating with youth of all ages, parents, teachers, counselors and administrators for 20+ years.

  • Holistic education and the brain: Using neuroscience to empower your practice.

Abigail L. Larrison, PhD, EdD

This workshop will give educators and administrators both a framework for using the brain sciences in creating a developmentally appropriate curriculum, as well as scientific findings to be used as fodder for talking with parents and school officials.  This model was developed based on over 10 years of personal research on neural systems of attention, memory, and motivation and is focused on implementing the science of learning into each lesson.  A discussion of how this model can be incorporated into the common core will be provided for teachers in public schools.

Abigail Larrison received her PhD in Neuroscience from Rutgers Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience in 2000 focused on mechanisms of attention and systems level neuroscience.  She began working in education in 2005, applying her knowledge of the brain sciences towards teaching pedagogy and practice.  Abigail received her EdD in Educational Leadership from UCSD in 2013, where she focused on advancing issues of educational reform based on the brain and learning sciences.  Her recent publications extend into the area of neuropharmacology, the psychophysiology of attention and critical issues in neuroeducation.

  • The Oak Meadow Scale of Student Autonomy

Ben Mitchell

The Oak Meadow Scale is a self-assessment questionnaire which evaluates a student’s sense of educational autonomy — intellectual independence, self-directedness and personal empowerment. We have collected responses from students in grades 7-12, creating statistical norms and percentiles.  Come see the statistics and explore what they mean. This workshop examines the paradigm of student autonomy, reviews the research and examines practices to encourage student autonomy. We all know the magic when a student takes charge of learning; come collaborate and explore ways to support our students to become empowered, independent learners.

Ben Mitchell, Director of Admissions at Oak Meadow, has taught at Landmark College, The Union Institute and Smith College.  Working in alternative education since 1989, Mitchell has taught 3rd grade to graduate school, using strategies to support every learning style. In 2009, Mitchell founded Student Mentoring Services, an online mentorship of cloud based technology to support executive functions.  At Landmark College, Mitchell was a founder of the Language Intensive Curriculum, employing assistive technology to support significant deficits in reading and writing. Mitchell has presented all over the world on original research in the field of learning.

  • Setting Personal Boundaries that Empower Young People

Connie Allen, M.A.  

Most of us did not grow up learning how to set boundaries compassionately and powerfully. Yet there are times when boundaries need to be set for the welfare of the child, ourselves, and our program or family. Many adults struggle with setting limits because we fear a child’s upset, limiting or disempowering the young person, or making a poor judgment call. The good news is by being authentically yourself, you can set empowering limits with children , keep your relationship strong and even clean up anything you wish you had handled differently. Come learn effective tools and gain greater insight in how to be truly yourself with the young people in your life.

Hi! I’m Connie Allen, aka the Joyous Family Coach. I have been coaching  parents and educators for over 30 years and empowering young people longer than that. With an M.A. in psychology and 14 years teaching children of all ages, my passion is to share the ingredients that nurture children’s Inner Brilliance and that create truly joyous relationships with our precious young people. My best teachers are my cherished  son Orion, my  two amazing grandchildren Sebastian and Madison, and all the young people who have trusted and guided me along the way.

Group F, Friday, 3:30pm

  • Teaching social sciences and environmental education in a consent-based educational setting

Marc-Alexandre Prud’homme

Teaching in a consent-based educational environment is much different than teaching in any other learning settings. Teaching strategies such as lectures more prevalent in coercive-based education might not accomplished desired goals in an unschooling setting or in a democratic school. For this reason, in this workshop, I will share some of the teaching strategies I have used to assist students in learning about social sciences and the environmental at Compass (a learning centre in Ottawa based on the North Star model). For instance, I will talk about how I have tried to use some place-based education principles in that context. Moreover, believing that together with the attendees of that workshop, we know more about this topic that I do alone, one of the goal of the workshop will be to set up a space where everyone can share their ideas about how to teach social sciences and environmental education as well as their experience teaching or learning about these subjects in a consent-based learning setting.

Marc-Alexandre Prud’homme has been teaching as a volunteer at Compass, a centre for self-directed learning for a year and half now. In 2011, Prud’homme completed in Master’s degree during which he looked at citizenship education in democratic schools.

  • Better Together: How to Build a Collaborative Local Community of Alternative Educators

Teri Sperry 

We’ll give a brief history of the vibrant, diverse, collaborative community of alternative educators we’ve built in the Austin area over the past 2-1/2 years. We’ll discuss the challenges and obstacles we’ve encountered along the way, as well as the many benefits this synergistic effort has brought to the schools, preschools, after-school programs, and other organizations affiliated with our nonprofit Education Transformation Alliance. Then we’ll open it up to learn from other workshop participants: How do alternative educators in your area find each other, communicate, and support one another? How do families looking for different educational options find them?

Teri Sperry is a cofounder of the nonprofit Education Transformation Alliance in Austin, Texas, and runs Alt Ed Austin, a website, blog, and consulting service dedicated to helping parents find the right educational fit for their kids. Teri spends much of her time researching and writing about education, consulting with parents about schooling options for their children, and working with educators to support and strengthen the local “alt ed” community.

  • Teens Explain How School is Optional

Current members of North Star and Princeton Learning Cooperative

A panel of teens from two Liberated Learners centers (North Star and Princeton Learning Cooperative) will share their stories about how they came to be self-directing their own learning, including leaving school, deschooling, finding themselves, figuring out homeschooling, and some of the cool stuff they’ve been able to do because they are not in school for 7 hours every day. Moderated question and answer to follow.

As current members of North Star and Princeton Learning Cooperative, the teens on the panel will reflect varied backgrounds, with some having left high school or middle school due to stress and anxiety over social issues or academics, and others leaving high school or a homeschooling situation because they wanted more out of life.

  • A Study of Unschooled Adults

Gina Riley & Peter Gray

After doing a study of 200 + unschooling families, Dr. Peter Gray and I decided to focus on how unschoolers fare in adulthood. A call for research was made in March, and over 75 adults who had been unschooled answered our call for research. Within this workshop, we will discuss how our participants made the decision to unschool, the social experiences of unschoolers, the advantages/disadvantages of unschooling, both as a child and as an adult, choices unschooled adults have made re: higher education and continuing education, and career choices made by unschooled adults.

Gina Riley, Ph.D. is an educational psychologist who teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in Psychology, School Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education at Hunter College in Manhattan and Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Her master's thesis and doctoral dissertation both focused on measures of self-determination and intrinsic motivation in homeschoolers. Dr. Riley’s current research interests include homeschooling and unschooling, intrinsic motivation in education, and the study of learning disabilities. She also holds several certificates in online education, distance learning, and educational technology. Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, animal behavior, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education.  He is author of Psychology (Worth Publishers), a college textbook now in its 6th edition.   Most of his recent research and writing has to do with the value of free, unsupervised play for children’s healthy social, emotional, and intellectual development. 

  • Giving Kids All That We Know Now!

Dara Van Laanen

Cursory coverage of anatomy and physiology is not enough! Year after year playing competitive games in PE is not okay! How does the mind work, emotions, thought? Giving kids the opportunity to consider the best of what we know in the arenas of mind and body is the food that they desperately need to realize their inherit potential and become truly, human beings – self-aware, intelligent, and healthy! In this workshop, we will consider a variety of contexts and content that support a complex and expansive level of self understanding. Lets give kids a better chance of knowing what it means to have a life well lived!

Dara Van Laanen has worked with children for more than 20 years. Dance brought her into their world and she has never left. After earning a Master's in Ed and teacher certification from Antioch in 2001, she won a job as a kindergarten teacher in Chennai, India. Once back in the U.S. and upon witnessing the realities of public schools, she earned another Master's Degree (in Administration) in hopes of changing the system! In 2007, she moved to Vermont, and continues to walk the halls of public schools hoping and trusting that one day they too can and will change.

Group G, Saturday, 9:30am

  • High School Dropout to Harvard: My Life with Dyslexia

John D Rodrigues

Learn how I used my dyslexic strengths to get admitted to Harvard University.

I thought my dyslexia would keep me out of college–I was wrong. It secured not just my admission to college, but my ability to thrive while there. My learning style had been labeled a "disability" because it did not suit conventional teaching practices. And no doubt, I performed terribly in school and faced great difficulty reading and writing. Some approaches to dyslexia felt like bandages. Others felt like a mountain of work just so that I could learn like everyone else. But non-traditional learners will never learn like everyone else. Why would we want to? I discovered that I could either follow the typical path to mediocre accomplishment or I could depart on a winding path to great success. Ironically, the key to getting into college (or achieving any other big goal) was not in trying to change my dyslexia, but in embracing how I learned to its maximum potential.

John D. Rodrigues, M.Ed., Graduated from U.C. Berkeley and spent a year as a visiting scholar at Harvard University. John loves to inspire and empower others in his community to use their dyslexic strengths to live a happy and successful life. He has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, and KOCE PBS. John is a compassionate and skilled speaker, and he enjoys sharing his message with K-12 schools and colleges across the country. He lives in Claremont, California with his wife and daughter.  

  • Exploring Democratic Early Education In Refugee Populations (aka “New Americans”)

Meredith Bartolo

An interactive workshop that will explore the idea of democratic education for young children of all races, cultures, and backgrounds. This workshop will discuss the creation of supportive, open, and alternative learning environments for young students and their families who are English language learners, new to America, and/or come from a traumatic backgrounds. Self-regulation techniques will also be discussed, including movement activities. This workshop will also speak to the idea of including the whole family in the democratic learning process, especially families who are New Americans.  

I have a Masters degree from Goddard College , where I studied Democratic Early Education, am a certified yoga teacher, and licensed teacher. I am now the Preschool Program Coordinator and Teacher for the Winooski Family Center, and am deeply involved in alternative educational models and working within the fast-growing Refugee Population in Vermont. I am passionate about providing unique and supportive educational experiences, and a nurturing environment for all children and their families.

  • Freedom To Educate and Education Equality.  Practical Approaches

Amir Notea

The workshop concerns freedom and equality for educators and for kids, and how to practically achieve both.  Working together on ways to address social, economic and political issues.  We will first briefly present a few common non-constructive ways to think about the issues, and clear the table for a constructive discussion.  Then the participants will choose specific subjects to work on.  Most of the workshop time will be used for generating ideas and directions for practical solutions.  Finally, we will have short wrap-up, and see how we can put the solutions to work.

Amir Notea is an Israeli hi-tech entrepreneur who turned his attention to education when forced to think about it by the sudden appearance and fast growing-up of his children.  In the course of educating himself about the problems and possible solutions, Amir wrote a book  about the subject:  21st century education – an outsider’s view. Amir now chairs the initiative for choice in education – a non-profit that aims to make free choice in education available and accessible to everyone, regardless of their social, economic or other circumstances.

  • Experiencing Awareness Through the Body                    

Margo W. MacLeod              

The children call it Jedi training. The title fits because it’s fun and engaging and it’s all the skills (short of light sabers) that someone needs to know if they wished to have the heart, the awareness, the inner self-knowledge, and the physical presence of a Jedi warrior. It’s a way for adults also to learn from within themselves how to deepen concentration, and relaxation. It is a way to honor and integrate learning from all the planes of the being—mental, physical, emotional/vital, and spiritual. It is also fun and fluid—helpful to individuals and groups with many different needs.

Margo W. MacLeod has studied Awareness Through the Body with the co-creators in Auroville, India and at workshops in the US. Currently she leads classes for 5-13 year olds at the Whole Life Learning Center and the 9th Street School in Austin and occasional classes for adults. Prior to this new teaching adventure she had a long career in higher education mainly at Goddard College.

  • Creating A Network Learning Hub

Zahra Lightway

Knowledge, money and know-how are the two greatest barriers for parents to overcome when considering true alternative educational experiences for their children. A network learning hub is a tool to match parents, children, and educators with each other and with resources to create organic, affordable self-regulating learning experiences based on the needs of the moment. What if there were a site you could access for free and post exactly the kind of educational experience you are looking for and be instantly connected with everything you need to create it: tools, other youth, an educational leader (if necessary), and a place to do it, all for very little money using resources that already exist in your community? Join this workshop to explore this idea, comment on its usefulness, and brainstorm what it would need to be successful and meet your needs.

Zahra Lightway M.Ed worked in public education for over a decade as a teacher and administrator, before concluding that nothing new was ever going to come out of it. She asked herself what school would look like if best practices were actually used and then created a school using that model. After one year, she realized it did not go far enough. A global network of schools would not be created one school at a time by a lone founder. It had to be grassroots. It had to be accessible and it had to be effective. The Light Way Schools Global Network Learning Hub is a possible solution to access for all.

  • Prescription for a Healthy School

Peter Berg

Too often a significant area of school sustainability is overlooked – the health of a school! Without this any school or organization will struggle with sustainability.  We will explore steps that members of the school community can take to ensure that their school is a healthy as possible and educate for sustainability. Workshop will focus on small break- out groups designed to come away with an action plan for ensuring a healthy school environment. We will discuss key areas for schools to focus on and resolving the barriers schools face to providing a healthy environment.   We will also explore how attending to this creates an environment for optimal health which is a foundational piece of an education that works and ultimately leads to a more just and sustainable society. 

Peter, hold a doctorate in educational leadership is a holistic living and educational advocate and AADP board certified health coach. He currently works with adolescents, young adults, families, and schools in holistic health, mental health, and educational counseling. He also continues to work as a leadership and educational developer and consultant with various schools and organizations. Peter has over 20 years in education, as a teacher, educational leader and advocate.  He envisions a world where everyone has the ability and right to meet their need for optimal health. 

Group H, Saturday, 1:45pm

  • Bringing Democratic Education to More Communities

​​Nikhil Goyal

In this workshop, we'll examine why school is toxic to children's health, well-being, and love of learning and then explore alternative models of learning, like democratic and free schools. Later, the focus will be on how to create systemic educational change within our communities and cities. Questions that will guide our discussion include: Can schools be reformed from within? What is the best way to bring these ideas and principles to a larger scale? What role does the maker movement play in this transformation? 

  • Challenging Educational Advancement Protocol-Beat the Mathematics Gatekeeper

Jessica London Jacobs

After years of trying to make standards-based mathematics authentic and relevant in her secondary school classrooms, Jessica has given up… and instead teaches her continuation high school students two things: to determine and study the quantitative elements of their individual passions AND simultaneously she “teaches to the test” as a logic building exercise that helps students overcome the system and get in to college despite the math gatekeeper. Her own son, for whom number sense is a challenge, inspired her to tackle his schooling another way. He began taking college courses that matched his interests at age eleven. Not an overly bright student, Sage found college to be more manageable than middle or high school and at age 14 is a junior at UC Berkeley. Sage’s experience is extremely alternative and shows that the methods supported by AERO do work. Jessica is continuing to integrate these same concepts at a traditional school for at risk youth.

Jessica Jacobs holds a BA and MA in Math Education and multiple level teaching credentials in all subjects. Currently faculty in the affluent Tamalpais High School District working at their troubled continuation high school in Marin county California, Jessica also works as an independent educational consultant specializing in high school and college graduation for troubled teens. She has published articles about college math placement tests, character education, and early college and is co-author of books with her father, Four Arrows (aka Don Jacobs). She also works as a studio teacher, teaching child actors their academics on set and has founded two alternative schools. She is mother to three boys, ages 14, 9 and 8 months.

  • Community, Ambiguity, Emotionality, and the Other Intangibles: Resources to Bring Music-Making into Your Learning Community

Jill Hogan

Participating in music and movement-making activities is an important means for children to develop an appreciation for ambiguity, critical use of the senses, a means in which to express emotions, and the opportunity to engage in an ensemble community. Unfortunately, the staffs of many small and start-up schools are unable to include a music specialist and some may feel daunted by initiating or participating in music-making activities for or with their students.  This workshop will allow adults to learn songs, dances, play parties, and fingerplays to take home with them for direct use in their learning communities, as well as a resource listing for finding good and easily-accessible materials for music-making. Participants should arrive ready to move in comfortable shoes or bare feet.

Jill Hogan has been a music teacher in independent schools for six years, and is delighted to have found the world of alternative education, which is much more her style.  She most prefers teaching exceptional learners, having held positions teaching gifted and twice-exceptional children, as well as children on the autism spectrum.  She is on the founding team of the Joan Rubin School, a Sudbury-inspired school forming in Metro Boston.  Jill holds an MM in Music Education and a BM in Clarinet Performance from Boston Conservatory and has completed training in Orff-Schulwerk, a learner-centered approach to music and movement education, as well as coursework through the American Montessori Association.

  • Liberated Learners: Making self-directed learning possible for all children and teens

Kenneth Danford, Catherine Gobron, Joel Hammon, Alison Snieckus

Founders, directors and staff from two Liberated Learners centers, North Star and Princeton Learning Cooperative, will share how they started simple and immediate programs to support teens to pursue their own learning outside of school. Liberated Learners centers encourage children and teens to leave school and use homeschooling to design their own learning without the need for a school. We will explain the basics of creating a center (legal issues, outreach and marketing, first members), what happens at the centers and how teens lives are changed, and how Liberated Learners can support you to make school optional for a child.

Kenneth Danford: Co-founder and executive director of North Star, Kenneth has been working intensively with teenagers and their families since 1991. Previously a middle school social studies teacher, first in Prince George’s County, MD, then in Amherst, MA, Kenneth left the Amherst school system to found North Star. He brought with him extensive education and training, including a B.A. from Amherst College in Psychology and an M.A.T. in Social Studies from Brown University.

Joel Hammon: Co-director and founding member of the Princeton Learning Cooperative, Joel has over 11 years of teaching experience in both public and private schools. He holds a degree in secondary education from Miami University in Oxford, OH with minors in history and political science.

Catherine Gobron: A core staff member of North Star since 2003, Catherine is also a parent of two homeschoolers. She has been working continuously with youth in a variety of capacities since she was one herself, as a coach, tutor, and teacher in both public settings and Montessori schools. Catherine holds two B.A.s from University of California, Santa Barbara, in English and History, a Master's in Education from Lesley University, and primary teacher certification from the American Montessori Society.

Alison Snieckus: A staff member at the Princeton Learning Cooperative since 2012 and former board member, Alison has been working with Princeton area homeschoolers since 2003 and is co-founder of E-Cubed–a weekly meeting of teen homeschoolers organized around teen-led activities. She previously worked for ETS and has taught graduate level statistics for Rutgers University. Alison holds an M.Ed. in learning and cognition and an Ed.D. in educational measurement and statistics from Rutgers University.

  • Montessori Math Materials for Children ages 2 – 5+

Katharina Finkmann

Demonstration & Discussion of the Montessori Math Materials.  Hands on with workshop participants we will go over the order in which to demonstrate the materials along with the philosophy of Dr. Montessori’s Math Materials.  Including the Numerals from 1 – 10, the decimal system and skip counting.

I have owned and operated my own Montessori School for 32 years and have been the international teacher trainer for the past 28 years.

  • Join the AERO Alternative Educators of Color Caucus 

Kyja Wilburn

This workshop will be a forum on culture, race, and ethnicity in alternative schools and the particular concerns and experiences of Alternative Educators of Color. This workshop is appropriate only for people who identify as “of color.” White people who are interested in a forum on culture, race, and ethnicity and the particular concerns of White Alternative Educators are urged to create a caucus for that purpose. The goal is not segregation – we can all have conversations about culture, race, and ethnicity together throughout the conference. Caucusing has the potential to bolster our collective capacity to foster the existing cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity in the alternative school movement.  We hope to build a safe space for Alternative Educators of Color to address their particular issues with each other, thereby bolstering their capacity as alternative educators. We will draft actions to support each other throughout the year. I expect that participants will find the workshop to be a haven to address questions that will come up at the conference, which are difficult or unproductive to raise elsewhere. I expect that we will develop relationships that we can build on throughout the conference and year.

Kyja Wilburn is a student in Asheville, NC. She is studying alternative education, particularly the relationship between Free schools and Black students. An alumna of Spelman College and Warren Wilson College, she founded Radical Leadership at her current school UNC Asheville, in which she facilitated workshops about Nonviolent Communication and White Privilege. After graduation she hopes to expand her auto-unschooling practice and eventually open a free school in Asheville. 

Group I, Saturday, 3:30pm
  • Cartography 101

Kathyann Natkie & Monica Cochran

The map is not the territory but it IS useful to have one. Being connected to learning is critical for a learner’s development. How do we facilitate learning without directing? Although curriculum can define, record, and inspire learning experiences, it does not encapsulate the learning processes of the individual learner. Kathyann and Monica will share from their experiences of using mindmapping, the SelfDesign Mandala and Paragon, journals, and collaborative portfolios to empower the individual learner. This will be an interactive discussion about how a team can share and deepen a learner’s experience.

Kathyann Natkie has been a learning consultant to independent learners and school designers for 30+ years. More recently, she has been a SelfDesign Global Learning Consultant working with learners around the world.

Monica Cochran has been working with learners of all ages in alternative schools, business, and health care for over 35 years. She started home-learning in the early 90’s which led to a whole new chapter of exploring the world as a curriculum. Most recently, she has been working as the Director of Global Learning Programs for SelfDesign and as an Administrator in their Special Ed program.

  • Education Uncensored: Child-led Learning Techniques in the Classroom

Laurie Block Spigel

How do you get your students to ask their own questions?  To choose their own projects?  To connect with the material at hand?  To see themselves in their studies?  Is it possible for students to experience self-discovery, perhaps even a personal awakening, as they learn about the world?  The answer is a resounding YES!  Join Laurie Block Spigel as she shares the many techniques she has developed as a parent and classroom teacher of homeschoolers, including practical approaches to child-led, self-directed learning, for individuals and in group situations of all ages, where there is often a curriculum focus.   

Laurie Block Spigel is the author of Education Uncensored: A Guide for the Aspiring, the Foolhardy, and the Disillusioned.  She is the mother of two homeschooled sons, now both adults, and an educator teaching popular homeschooling classes in NYC.  You can read more about Laurie here:

  • Reframing education as “initiation:” Schools and communities as places for rites of passage.

David G. Blumenkrantz, Ph.D., Ed.M. – Brian Evarts, MSS

Rites of passage were the way we passed along essential life sustaining information and skills to the next generation. Through group experiences and conversations that respond to the interests of participants this workshop explores youth and community development through rites of passage. Guiding principles for designing rites of passage strategies, developed over 40 years in a range of education and youth development settings will be shared. Key ingredients in the Initiation of Scholars© component of the model Rite Of Passage Experience© ROPE® will be described enabling participant to begin work within a rites of passage framework.

David G. Blumenkrantz, Ph.D., Ed.M. Since 1966 David has dedicated his life to improving the conditions that impact education and human development. He has been called the “father of modern community rites of passage” and has served as an educator, youth worker, administrator of public and private human service agencies. Along with authoring publications David has consulted with and provided training to schools, communities and organizations around the world. Brian Evarts, MSS. Brian has worked for the past 28 years as a social worker in a public school. A Master Rite Of Passage Experience© ROPE® facilitator Brian is a Adjunct Faculty at Asnuntuck Community College. 

  • From Blackboards to Drawing Boards – Enlivening the abstract through engineering design and prototyping.

Aditya KumaraKrishnan, Arun KumaraKrishnan, Richard Glover, Akinsheye Dorsett

Students often associate the rigor found in classroom instruction, when it occurs in isolation, with mundane abstraction and an environment which does not foster creativity, excitement, engagement, or passion. We expose students and educators to the engineering design and prototyping process. Participants choose from an array of engineering problems, with the objective being: designing and prototyping a solution. Workshop will include exposure to Computer Aided Design(CAD) and affordable Rapid Prototyping technologies such as 3D printers and Laser Cutters. Participants obtain insight and hands-on experience by actively participating in the engineering design cycle i.e. brainstorming, initial design, prototyping, testing and iterating through the whole process.

Our diverse consists of experienced educators, computer engineers, mathematicians, aerospace engineers and physicists. From robotics to aerodynamics, from programming to artificial intelligence, our products immerse students in STEM curricula that empower them to creatively solve complex, real-world problems. Our products bridge the gap that exists between the rigor of traditional classroom material and its relevance to the real-world. For instance, in our Robo-Wars program students design, simulate, and virtually compete with their robots, then they are given access to modern prototyping technologies to bring their virtual designs to life.

  • Curriculum in Context: Violence Prevention for All

Dr. Crystallee Crain 

In this workshop participants will address their practice as educators through a violence prevention framework. Through case studies that promote a strengths-based approach we will explore intersectionality as an applied theory. This exchange of realities will broaden the understanding of social and political push and pulls that contribute to individuals and groups experience with violence. Inevitably, we believe it will and has strengthened the capacity of practitioners to prevent harm within and outside of their respective institutions.

Dr Crystallee Crain is an educator and activist. Ms Crain has a decade of experience and has had many successes in leadership development, teaching, and capacity building. Recently, Dr Crain has developed a project called the Truth Telling Series where she aims to broaden the violence prevention agenda to include accountability for acts of state violence. She has trained human and public service professionals for the past 5 years in developing creative strategies to prevent violence through their work.

  • Robert’s Rules of Order…How to Teach Democratic Decision Making to Children from Kindergarten to the 5th Grade

Ted Weisgal

Robert’s is used and misused by civic groups all over the world. People are thrown into the fray without any training. No wonder it’s hated and people are “Bowling Alone” (Robert Putnam). People in power like it this way. There is an alternative. Participate in the process and see how easy and fun the basics can be. Take what you learn back to your school; meld it into your curriculum where you’ll see democracy and learning flourish. Discipline within the process will be addressed; we bet you’ll even discover a happier campus.

Ted has taught Robert’s for 34 years, initially for the lifelong learning program which he co-founded in Houston, Leisure Learning Unlimited. He’s taught it to children as young as 2nd grade and authored A Guide to Teaching Robert’s Rules of Order to Children from Kindergarten to the 5th Grade that will be published this year. One 4th grade class voted unanimously for him to teach them for five days including an essay exam at the end. He served as the Parliamentarian for the National Board of the radio network, Pacifica, for 1½ years.

Group J, Sunday, 10:30am

  • How do each of us learn best?

Carlo Ricci

This will be an interactive session. In the spirit of holism, we will begin with ourselves and think about how each of us we learns best. I will briefly share how I see self-determination, personal learning, and the willed curriculum as a way to better understand learning. I will also share what I believe love, trust, respect, care, and compassion have to do with learning and we can then discuss how an understanding of this might help us all learn in a more mindful way. The hope is that we will co-create the session and all come away with a deeper understanding of what learning means to each of us. This presentation will begin with ourselves and focus on how we learn best in our own ways and argue that we should then be empowered and trusted to learn what, where, when, and how we will.Often people interested in self-determined learning say that there is no curriculum. That language makes many people uncomfortable. This work shop will reframe that language and give people a term I coined in my book The Willed Curriculum; namely, that there is a curriculum, it is a willed, self-determined, personal curriculum.

Carlo Ricci is a full Professor at the Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University, Graduate Studies. He founded and edits the Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning (JUAL). He has published a number of books and articles. Among the books he has written and edited are, The Willed Curriculum, Unschooling, and Self-Direction: What Do Love, Trust, Respect, Care, and Compassion Have To Do With Learning? (2012); The Legacy of John Holt: A Man Who Genuinely Understood, Trusted, and Respected Children (co-edited with Pat Farenga) (2013); Turning Points: 35 Educational Visionaries in Education Tell Their Own Stories (co-edited with Jerry Mintz) (2010); Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education (co-edited with Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko (2014).

His research interests include Unschooling; Homeschooling; Holistic Education; Self-determined Learning; Free Schools; Democratic Schools; Online Learning; Technology and Learning; Play; Natural Learning; Curiosity; Willed Learning; and the Willed Curriculum.

  • School as Community; Community as School

Chris Mercogliano

Strange as it may sound coming from someone who has been teaching in schools for over 40 years, I have always been of two minds about them. This is because schools—even AERO members—can unwittingly become artificial places where children and adults exchange their unique identities for social roles, and where the learning that takes place is often second hand and out of context. The way to avoid school as cul-de-sac is for the school to function as a community and for the surrounding “community” to function  as a school. The workshop will be a practical exploration of these two concepts.

Chris Mercogliano was teacher and director of Albany’s Free School for over 30 years. He has written many respected books, such as Making It Up as We Go Along, How to Grow a School: Starting and Sustaining Schools That Work, and many others.

  • Invitation to Innovation: Inquiry Exploration in a Nutshell

Lavonne Hunter

Cognitive neuroscience has shown the teaching and learning community that students learn best and most by doing, as per Aristotle. Student-led, problem-based learning provides learners with the freedom to inquire about topics that they are most curious about. I will present my classroom-tested protocols and resources to inspire the next generation of risk-takers to let go and let learn. Participants will receive a detailed implementation guide easily adapted for all learners. “Educationists should build the capacities of the spirit of inquiry, creativity, entrepreneurial and moral leadership among students and become their role model.” (Abdul Kalam)

Lavonne Hunter called “Coach Hunter” by her students has been teaching in urban public schools since 2004. Trained in cognitive neuroscience, she has labored to make learning fun and memorable for her middle and high school science students. Her teaching philosophies are grounded in self-efficacy and using modeling to teach challenging concepts.

  • Embracing Uncertainty, Creating Conversation, Supporting Development

Gwen Lowenheim

Given today’s uncertainty, we could all benefit from learning to embrace and deal skillfully with the unexpected, and make use of opportunities to create new possibilities.  How can we be there for young people when we ourselves are often unsure of what to say or do?  In this philosophical and playful workshop we’ll build a dynamic and inclusive learning environment for meaningful, emergent and “not-knowing” conversations that support all of us to perform as active creators of our lives and our world.  Participants will explore cutting edge tools — poetics, improvisation and Vygotsky’s ZPDs – for doing this. The work of educators using these tools internationally will also be introduced. 

Gwen Lowenheim, M.S. Ed., is a learning design specialist and a TESOL instructor. She is a faculty member of the East Side Institute, an international training and research center and co-founder/co-director of The Snaps Project, an educational consulting firm. Gwen trains educators in a social therapeutic, performance-based learning approach that brings creativity and innovation into classrooms. Her programs introduce theatrical improvisation, philosophical exploration and group play in developing collaborative teams, language learning and stress management. Her popular online courses draw dozens of creative conversationalists from desktops around the globe.

  • Don’t Praise Me: What you can say instead.

Jennifer McDonald

We will explore some of the research about the negative effects of praise that judges children’s intelligence or character based on their behavior. We will talk about why saying, "You’re smart!" undermines children’s motivation and confidence. This workshop will go one step further to apply this research to the classroom, outlining how to notice children’s contribution and give children feedback respectfully without praise.

I am the owner and director of Our Neighborhood CDC, a small Reggio-inspired infant toddler child development center. As an early childhood educator, I work to support families and teachers to be intentional, respectful, and reflective in their work with children. I work with families, teachers, young children, and our community with the goal of creating the best possible experience for children zero-to-three that spend their days away from their families. Our program is strongly based in respect and community, which is why I look forward to becoming more involved in AERO.

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