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Ed Farm hosts inaugural Future of Learning Summit in Alabama

Alexus Ables is a first-year science teacher at Floyd Middle Magnet School in Montgomery. (Anthony Cook / Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama NewsCenter

Ed Farm hosted its inaugural Future of Learning Summit this week at the Fennec event space in Birmingham.

The two-day professional learning event featured nationally renowned keynote speakers, Apple learning specialists, educational technology partners and community organizations who all focused on preparing educators with a future-focused mindset for teaching and learning in the digital age.

Alexus Ables, a first-year science teacher at Floyd Middle Magnet School in Montgomery, said she was inspired by presenter Naomi Thomas, who talked about her startup, ∞ edu, pronounced Infinity E-D-U.

“She’s using a platform to take the students’ passions first and connecting their passion with a career in technology,” Ables said. “I just never thought about an app that would connect their career interests with tech interests and mesh them together.

“She used the example that we have a bunch of young boys who want to go to the NFL or go to the NBA and not all of them are going to go to the NFL or the NBA, but you can still work for your favorite team in some capacity. Just introducing them to the tech world. Her talk just got me excited about that.”

Ed Farm, a tech and education startup nonprofit based in Birmingham, launched in 2020 with founding support from Apple and the Alabama Power Foundation. Ed Farm creates programs designed to engage students, educators and adult learners in innovative digital skills experiences that better prepare them for the 21st –century workforce.

Nearly 200 educators were expected to attend the summit, which featured sessions designed and facilitated by Apple Professional Learning specialists, including App Playgrounds App Design, Swift with Xcode, AR with Reality Composer, Challenge-Based Learning guidebooks, Photowalks with iPad and several others, according to a press release.

“Taking education and technology and putting them together just makes so much sense,” Ables said, “and when I do that in my classroom, it opens up the world to my students.”

Karita Sullen, a second- through fifth-grade technology teacher at Oxmoor Valley Elementary in Birmingham, agreed with Ables about the value of attending the summit and the opportunity to connect with other teachers and experts, including keynote speaker, educator and activist José Vilson.

“… These brilliant people who I’d never heard of, and even meeting new teachers who had just started, and teachers who’ve been teaching for 15-20 years and even more, and all of these brilliant people in one room, coming together, all of us have the same common goal,” Sullen said.

“… We teach every day, we don’t get this opportunity much, just to talk to each other about ideas, from simple lessons to creating apps and making the children want to change the world,” she said. “It’s been great for me just to talk with everyone and piggyback off of all of these ideas.”

Karita Sullen is a technology teacher at Oxmoor Valley Elementary School in Birmingham. (Anthony Cook / Alabama NewsCenter)

Sullen said she’ll take lessons learned at the summit back to her classroom.

“I take notes every day, and I write all of the information down. I’m constantly researching and trying to find new ideas for the students,” she said. “My big thing is exposing them so I bring that back to my classroom, all of the new technology, so they can at least be aware of what’s going on. And, since we’re out of the pandemic, I’m going to invite a lot of these people in these careers into the classroom, so (the students) can aspire to be in those industries.”

Ed Farm CEO Waymond Jackson said that’s the goal of the summit.

“The Future of Learning Summit carries out Ed Farm’s mission to equip educators in schools, and communities, with innovative tools and teaching strategies,” he said. “We have convened a group of national speakers — who are leaders in equity, education and technology — to share their future-focused solutions in education with our Ed Farm community of educators and partners.”

Vilson is a bestselling author and the executive director of #EduColor, a nonprofit that mobilizes advocates nationwide around issues of educational equity, agency and justice. All summit participants received a complimentary signed copy of Vilson’s book, “This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education,” in their conference swag bag.

“I am honored and excited to be a speaker at this year’s Future of Learning Summit,” he said. “This conference is extremely important for educators who wish to reimagine education and know all about futuristic learning, technology, social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion within the classroom.”

Along with Vilson and Thomas, other keynote speakers were Kai Frazier, Korri Jackson and Karima Wilson.

Frazier is an educator turned EdTech entrepreneur, whose passion for providing opportunities for underrepresented communities led her to become the founder of Kai XR, which helps educators bring the metaverse into their classrooms.

Jackson is an education program manager on Apple’s Community Education Initiative team. She is responsible for the program development and strategies that shape Apple’s community education impact with strong emphasis on historically Black colleges and universities and underrepresented communities globally.

Wilson is founder and CEO of Forged Ed, an organization with the mission of helping educators build schools where students of color thrive.

“We are redefining the professional learning experience at Ed Farm, and the Future of Learning Summit is not your average education conference,” said Beth Sanders, vice president of Learning at Ed Farm. “We are bringing teachers from across the Southeast to Birmingham to experience the rich history and ripe energy of innovation in the Magic City.”

Several vendors also attended the conference to offer hands-on experience and workshops for the future-focused educators, including Ed Farm’s own innovative digital learning experience platform “Ed Farm Learn,” Firia Labs and ThinkLive!

Ables said being a teacher fellow at Ed Farm has already transformed her classroom.

“As a first-year teacher, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she said. “But Ed Farm really set me up. They taught me how to create lesson plans, how to keep the students engaged. The takeaway from the summit is the creative aspect and the emerging technology like VR and AR. It’s new to the student, but it’s up-and-coming in the world, and it’s a world that they’re going to have to live in and thrive in.”

Sullen said she’s constantly telling her colleagues how invaluable Ed Farm has been to her career. Sullen was among the early participants in Ed Farm training.

“It has not only changed my teaching style, my relationship with my students and my ability to empower my students, it’s also changed me as a person,” she said.

“I felt like there were limitations on what my students could do; Ed Farm has helped me to empower them to really feel like they can do anything, because now I really do believe that they can do anything,” Sullen added.

“With my attitude change, it helps to change my students.”