SXSW EDU Highlights: Education Design, Poetry and Nature as Teaching Tools, and 'Real Talk' with National Teachers of the Year

More Featured Sessions and First Keynote Unveiled – Plus Schedule Highlights of Note for K–12 Educators

SXSW EDU has revealed more “featured sessions” and announced a keynote session featuring accomplished sibling duo Doreen Gehry Nelson and Frank Gehry.

In a keynote titled “Design-Based Learning Unwrapped: Build Our Future,” Nelson and Gehry “will celebrate the culmination of their life’s work, and share their perspectives on the roles that creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration must play in education, particularly through the implementation of the Design-Based Learning methodology,” SXSW EDU said.

The Doreen Nelson Method of Design-Based Learning, applied in K–12 classrooms around the world since 1969, features “6 ½ Steps of Backwards Thinking” — and everything is rooted in the spatial domain, or learning by doing.

Nelson is professor emerita of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, School of Education and Integrative Studies; adjunct professor at the Cal Poly College of Environmental Design; and was formerly a professor at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. In 2019, she was named Founding Director of Design-Based Learning by the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies — Center X for the UCLA Design-Based Learning Project.

An award-winning educator for five decades, Nelson started her career teaching in public schools, where she taught all grades over 15 years. “She began developing her Design-Based Learning methodology (formerly called City Building Education) in the late 1960s to ignite creativity, promote high-level transfer of learning, and foster cross-curricular critical thinking skills among K–12 students using the spatial domain,” according to her bio.

Named one of 30 top innovators in education by The New York Times in 1991, Nelson is the recipient of both the American Institute of Architecture’s prestigious Lifetime Honorary Membership (the highest honor for a non-architect) and the California State University’s statewide, 2006 Wang Award for Excellence in Education.

Frank Gehry holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Southern California (1954), and he studied City Planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Since then, Gehry’s architectural career has produced public and private buildings in America, Europe, and Asia — and earned him several of the most prestigious awards in the architectural field, including the Pritzker Prize.

Notable Gehry projects include Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles; Eight Spruce Street Residential Tower in New York City; Opus Residential Tower in Hong Kong; Foundation Louis Vuitton Museum in Paris, France; the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington D.C; the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Children’s Institute Inc. in Watts, California, a new center for the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) in Inglewood, California, and the Grand Avenue Project in Los Angeles. Projects under construction include Facebook campuses in Menlo Park, California, and Redmond, Washington; the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and a new headquarters for Warner Brothers in Burbank, California.

Featured Sessions Part Two Unveiled

Additional SXSW EDU “featured sessions” announced recently include:

Building Sustainable Early Childhood Education (March 8): Since COVID-19 thrust the availability of quality childcare into the spotlight as necessary to the economy, a newfound public interest is emerging in improving current systems and building sustainable early childhood education across the country. Panelists will discuss “how to translate that chatter into action”: Wonderschool CEO Chris Bennett; EdSurge Senior Reporter Emily Tate Sullivan; National Association for the Education of Young Children CEO Michelle Kang; and Home Grown Executive Director Natalie Renew.

Finding Identity Through Poetry, Art, & Nature (March 7): “Remember the sky that you were born under, / know each of the star's stories.” So begins the poem Remember, which implores the listener to know their origins, their communion with all things. Poetry, art, and place have the power to transcend generations, and reinforce one's sense of self and connection with others. Join the original author, an award-winning artist, and an educator in conversation as they discuss adapting this poem into a picture book, the connections between poetry and art, and their power to impact readers of any age. Speakers include U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and Caldecott medalist Michaela Goade, both authors with Random House Children’s Books.

Real Talk with Two National Teachers of the Year (March 7): Two National Teachers of the Year will lead an insightful conversation about how schools and districts can support educator agency, diversity in materials and student-centered learning. Kurt Russell (2022 honoree) and Rodney Robinson (2019 honoree) — both veteran educators — have taught students in suburban, city and juvenile detention schools and will discuss why representation matters, how to diversify the profession, and how to create a pipeline for a strong future workforce.

Other Schedule Highlights for K–12 Leaders

Leadership Prep: Educators Need Differentiation Too (March 6): Educators are leveraging new scientific research on how brains learn to meet students where they are and to design learning that’s relevant and engaging. But when it comes to educator training and development, content for teachers is the same across the board no matter the teacher’s experience, strengths, or needs. This session will focus on rethinking how we invest in developing educators.

Bridging Offline Students’ Connectivity Barriers (March 7): With an estimated 15 million U.S. students living with unstable internet access or no access at all, the 2030 estimated completion date of a federal broadband-for-all plan is not fast enough. This presentation will address low-barrier options for students to access carefully curated resources of digital content on their devices — without an internet connection.

Community Growth to Combat Educator Decline (March 8): With teacher burnout soaring, educators are searching for ways to connect with their colleagues to gain support, inspiration, and guidance. This panel will explore how ed tech is stepping up and creating space for educators to build support networks and create the communities they need to thrive.

Elevating Latino Parents in Education (March 8): Data shows that students perform better when their caregivers participate in their education, but Latino parents are often excluded from school decision-making processes. Now, Latino families are challenging the status quo in Houston, where Latino students represent 62% of the population, by presenting a unified vision for the change they want to see. This session will highlight advocacy work under way in Houston and how other school systems can create more welcoming environments for Latino families.

Equitable Assessment: Missing Elements & Solutions (March 7): Complex barriers such as hidden biases in assessments undermine equitable access to learning. Panelists will identify these barriers and explain how instructional design methods can innovate equitable assessment from the class level to the institutional level. Also expected to be discussed are high-tech and low-tech solutions to the problem of equitability and inclusivity in assessments.

Why Investing in Ed Tech Evidence Matters (March 8): As the pressure rises for schools to see improvements in learning outcomes from the influx of ed tech solutions implemented over the last several years, a panel of experts and practitioners will explore one district’s powerful program to teach its youngest learners foundational skills through evidence-based ed tech. Panelists: Carmen Alvarez of Harlingen Consolidated ISD, Sunil Gunderia of Age of Learning, Derek Newton of Forbes, Mary Styers of LearnPlatform.

Tickets to SXSW EDU are available now at and currently cost $595 for an all-event pass; the walk-up price will be $695, SXSW EDU said.

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