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Making the Most of the First Day at AERA

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Tomorrow, the nation's education researchers, professors, and such will convene in Denver for the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association. If you're going to be in Denver and want to catch up, on Friday and Saturday I'll be at Marlowe's co-hosting the "School Reform Café" from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. with my pal Van Schoales, executive director of Education Reform Now (the non-political counterpart to Democrats for Education Reform). We're expecting pop-ins from an illustrious list of friends like Patrick Wolf, Mark Schneider, Susanna Loeb, Adam Gamoran, Laura LoGerfo, Jeff Henig, Richard Ingersoll, Jal Mehta, Richard Lee Colvin, Heather Zavadsky, various Denver school reformers, and so on. I hope you'll feel free to swing by and join us.

For those folks who will be in Denver but are eager to take the whole business of conference sessions more literally, I'm happy to provide the following cheat sheet to help flag the must-see sessions for Friday, AERA's first day. (The real work here was done by my pseudonymous colleague Francesca Pickett, who finds it advisable to keep her actual identity under wraps in these matters.) Remember, the following are just from the Friday line-up; this is intended only to get you started.

While the formal theme for this year's AERA conference is "Understanding Complex Ecologies in a Changing World," Friday's theme might well be borrowed from the paper poetically titled, "Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete." "Roses" is being presented at a session led by former AERA president Gloria Ladson-Billings, making it a must-attend on anyone's list, I should think.

A paper worth catching, if only because it won the annual "Using Epistemic Twice in a Title" award, is, "'Game Changers': The Role of Epistemic Reflexivity in the Work of Epistemic Gaming." Another one that's enticed me with its cryptic post-colon prose is, "Outdoor Learning: Authenticity or Performativity." I'm also eager for the chance to get the scoop on the sophisticated sounding inquiry into paper airplane utilization, "Examining Exclusionary Activity Through Mediated Discourse Analysis: Looking Critically at Play, Peer Culture, and Paper Airplanes."

But the savvy AERA attendee won't want to fill up on these morsels. There's so much more for avid researchers to catch, such as, "Counter-Storytelling Through Teatro: Culture Clash in a Chicana-Chicano History Classroom." While riveting on its own, the piece is also just part of a symposium on "the pedagogical implications of critical race counterstorytelling for Chicana/o, Latina/o students, with presentations focused on Hollywood film, ethnic student news media, and teatro. Counterstorytelling offers a method of recounting the experiences and perspectives of racially and socially marginalized people. We apply Freire to the study of race in media and performance art, discussing efforts to utilize such cultural texts as tools to carry on his legacy within universities."

A terrific follow-up session for those seeking even more counterstorytelling is, "Cyber-Sista Cipher: Black Female Students' Color Consciousness and Counterstories as Hush Harbor in and for Universities." Can't resist sharing Francesca's take on this one, "This just makes me laugh. Read it aloud twice." I mean, really? "Color Consciousness and Counterstories as Hush Harbor?" What is that supposed to even mean?

For those attendees with a special affinity for your online avatars, be sure not to miss the session, "Peer Collaboration and Helping in Virtual Worlds: Complexities of Context in Quest Atlantis, Second Life, and World of Warcraft," which features the papers "Social Presence and Task Performance in Second Life" and "Peer Collaboration in Two Different Task Contexts in Quest Atlantis." Though, I'll admit, I do fear that evaluating "social presence" and "peer collaboration" in online communities may not necessarily be the best research tack for graduate students or young faculty struggling to maintain a satisfying first life.

You definitely won't want to miss this year's winner of the John LeCarre award, the paper entitled, "Informant, Translator, Ambassador ... Traitor?" It's being presented at the session "The Role of Reciprocity in American Indian Higher-Education Research." (Perhaps tangentially, the paper title also works as a pretty fair depiction of protagonist Jake Sully in James Cameron's 2009 cinematic smash Avatar. Just think about it. Heavy, no?)

And, for those who may get towards the end of a marvelous day and start to feel a little nostalgic for some of the day's highlights, have I got a session for you. With papers like "'Performative Nostalgia': Institutionalizing Feminist Knowledges in Chile" and "Beyond Nostalgia: Reimagining Sexuality Education in South African Schools in the Era of AIDS," the symposium uses "nostalgia as an analytical resource for educational research as it interrogates ambivalences toward change and novelty, whether new theories, new policies, new power alignments--or disappointments and failures. By examining nostalgia's role in specific educational contexts--internationalization, gender studies, sex education, and HIV/AIDS in South Africa--the symposium's papers...demonstrate that nostalgic orientations to time and space are part of how knowledges perform."

Okay, I don't want to overstuff anybody's program. But there is one more panel during the weekend that seems like a can't-miss: "Saints and Sluts: Racialized Pedagogies of the Good Girl-Bad Girl in Global Youth Culture," which features the papers, "True to the Game: Representations of Black Gangsta Femininity in Urban Street Fiction," "One Word: Benevolent Girlhood in the Cheetah Girls," and "Rebel Girl or Tamil Hottie? Media Representations of MIA as a Transnational Production of Girlhood." 'Nuff said.

I hope to see some of you in Denver, and to have the chance to talk epistemics, performativity, task performance in second life, feminist knowledges in Chile, sexuality education in South African schools, racialized pedagogies, and black gangsta femininity. And, please feel free to give me a heads up if you manage to catch particularly intriguing sessions, papers, or conversations at our nation's premier education research gathering.

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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