Hack to School Night


Back to School Night usually sucks. It’s the product of conversations [“Hola mijo, how was your day at school?” “Fine.” “What did you do?” “Nothing.” “Who did you eat lunch with?” “No one.” “What did you learn?” “Nothing.”] that can turn parents into detectives and teachers into tattletales.

Rather than speak for passive students, I want to help active learners speak for themselves.

I’ve been facilitating student-led conferences since 2004. The basic idea is for students to prepare answers to specific questions about their learning. Then they provide those answers in response to the people who care about them enough to ask. Students get more confidence and trust from parents, guardians, and others when they articulately and enthusiastically describe their learning experience. The student becomes an expert and advocate. Supporters have peace of mind. Everyone wins.

Six or seven years ago, I had car trouble on the way to Back to School Night. But it didn’t matter. Because everyone was prepared, the conversations took place as planned and everyone had a great time. Since then, I’ve called our practice “Hack to School Night.”

This year I’m leading the all-virtual Open-Source Learning Academy. I wondered whether anyone would want to participate in yet another zoom. In true Open-Source Learning style, since I didn’t know, I asked.


Here is the post that I used to present the idea:


(my t-shirt from OSCON)

To be clear: the word hack has been associated with several definitions (“sharp cough, “cut with unskillful blows,” & “illegal/unauthorized computer access,” e.g.) that do not describe what we do.

We make connections and facilitate conversations that help people learn.   We build, analyze,  evaluate and modify tools and working conditions to make them better.

You know how they say, “[So’n’so] just can’t hack it?” Well, maybe [So’n’so] can’t.  We can.

So, at Back– er, Hack to School night, we are at it again. Get here whenever you can. [UPDATE: 5:00 – 6:00 PM on Thursday, September 2] Bring whoever you want. Offer them the benefit of what you know and find a way to learn from them too. Share new ideas about technology and how you can use it to get ahead in life.

Here is the program:
1. Learner-led conference (see below)
2. Periodic “Intro to OSL” presentations
3. Sign-ups for “friend of the course” events and “digital drop-in” nights

Here is the process:
1. Think about these questions and your answers to them;
2. Bring someone who cares to Hack to School Night;
3. Have them ask you these questions, be suitably brilliant in your replies, and demand that they take notes so that you know they’re paying attention;
4. Turn in their notes to me [UPDATE: scan and post them to your blog], get your extra credit, listen to me brag about you briefly;
5. Go home [UPDATE: here in 2021, you’re already there!] and finish your homework.

Here are the questions:
1. What is OSLA about?
2. What is the easiest part of OSLA?
3. What is the hardest part of OSLA?
4. What have you learned so far?
5. What is your Big Question/ key interest?


It turned out that quite a few learners and parents wanted to hang out. As a result of experiences like this, I’ve come to the conclusion that the public debates between face to face learning and virtual environments don’t tell the whole story.

The next day, I posted a recap.

(If a picture is worth a thousand words, that is “smile smile smile” 8000 times right there.)


Thank you to everyone who joined our Hack to School Night yesterday. I enjoyed spending time with you and your families, answering questions, and thinking out loud about our goals.


Sometimes life cracks me up. Remember that moment toward the end, when we all heard the ice cream truck outside Zoe’s house, and I told you about Celia, my neighborhood ice cream truck driver? She must have heard me. Not five minutes after we ended the Zoom call I heard the music down the street… it was a sweet end to a sweet event. Thanks again.


Bam! The level of comfort, openness, and humanity that we maintained in our conversation for nearly an hour as people came and went was so far beyond anything I’ve ever seen when parents trudge around campus or the gym on a bell schedule. I was able to listen, get to know each individual a little, and answer specific questions – even better, students and families exchanged ideas with each other!

Given all of the division and isolation in our world today, it’s more important than ever for us to connect. I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Long live Hack to School Night.