2017 AEE International Conference

During our 2017 conference we sent out live updates to highlight each day's events.  Below is a compilation of those highlights:


 Thursday, November 9th: Conference Opening & Keynote Presentation

AEE Keynote

The opening keynote set the tone for the 2017 AEE International Conference and illustrated the diverse and global nature of experiential education today. Three speakers shared their stories – Phil Butterfield, principal at Connect Charter School in Canada, Tarun Chandna, CEO if Inme Learning in India, and Tonia Gray, professor at Western Sydney University in Australia.

Tonia Gray shared key moments in the development of outdoor education and adventure therapy in Australia. Major elements that led to broad acceptance in Australian society include a 30-year study on the impact of outdoor education upon adolescents, school curriculum reform, and exploration of the status of women in outdoor learning environments. She noted that the core of experiential education – relationships, resilience, reflection – is the same around the world and challenged attendees to keep building their pod of hope.

Tarun Chandna heads an adventure and outdoor-based company providing life skills learning for students and leadership development for corporations. He discussed the growth of experiential education in India over the past 20 years and how the field has responded to challenges, such as lack of infrastructure, insufficient medical facilities and a shortage of qualified staff. He recommended that practitioners around the world strive to get the best out of themselves, work well with others and develop the ability to get the best out of others.

Phil Butterfield highlighted the school’s EXPO Program, which blends learning in the classroom with application of learning in experiences outside the school. The school partners with community agencies and corporations to combine conceptual understanding in the classroom with purposefully constructed activities in the community. Phil asked if experiential education is ready for the disruptive innovation and growth mindset that are essential conditions for change.

Workshop Highlight: The Eloquence of Change

You may have read our recent blog post on The Eloquence of Change.  Kim Neal Wasserburger and Kim Olson delivered an amazing workshop today on the importance of sincere and genuine experience that 'transcends time and technology and becomes the marrow of change.' One workshop participant described their experience as "AMAZING. Just what was needed for me. No words to express—so much fun, so meaningful, so powerful. Extremely grateful for Kim & Kim!!!"  Here is a brief video from this playful and powerful workshop.

eloquence of change
Other popular workshops from today included:

  • Activity Tinkering: The How and Why of Modifying Simple Games to Meet Specific Goals w/Lisa Hunt
  • Overcoming Separation and Prejudice to Build Community Across Differences w/Lara Mendel & Brian Lowe
  • Sound Off!: Engaging Participants through Music, Rhythm, and Tone w/Rohan Shahani & John Henri Rorabeck
  • Adventure Therapy: Latest Research Developments and How These Will Affect the Field w/Michael Gass, Anita Tucker, Lee Gillis, Christine Norton & Keith Russell

Friday, November 10th: Kurt Hahn Address with Tony Alvarez

AEE Kurt Hahn

Tony Alvarez presented the 2017 Kurt Hahn Address. Tony has a long and rich history in AEE, helping build the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group and presenting regularly at International Conferences and TAPG Best Practices Conferences.  Tony serves as lecturer and point person for the use of experiential, adventure and wilderness approaches to social work practice at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. 

During his unique address, Tony shared inspirational moments from his personal history that were compelling, challenging, and funny. Key themes that appeared throughout his presentation included: connect, and through that connection you will belong – create adventures based on what you have, ask yourself what is unique and what will invite the best-selves of your participants - practice authentic engagement, this is where the magic happens - embrace and celebrate others’ work and invite them to share their stories –and hope is essential. The last part of Tony’s address was a call to all of us to care for each other and the earth we all share.


Workshop Highlight: Intercultural Communication

The Intercultural Communication workshop by Leila Mata, Director of Residential Life at UWC Costa Rica, walked participants through a series of activities allowing them to deconstruct the ways in which we judge each other based on what is most salient at first sight. Right from the start, she asked the auidence to 'write down their first impressions about me' and she used this personal experience as the vehicle to explain and relate to the more complex concepts of othering and belonging. The workshop emphasized that intercultural communication means intentionally crossing borders, building relationships and recognizing boundaries. A process that can only be authentic if lived from a foundation of vulnerability with each other. 

Intercultural comm
Other popular workshops from today included:

  • Experiential Learning in the Age of Artificial Intelligence w/Andrew Potter
  • Intersectionality, Inside and Out w/Chey Davis 
  • Facilitating Performance: Leveraging Mental Skills to Enhance the Performance of Experiential Educators w/AJ LaLonde, Angela Veatch, Katy Tran Turner, Kelly LaLonde, Marcus Washington, and others
  • History Repeating Itself? Exploring Hahn's Six Declines of Modern Youth in Contemporary Society w/T. Grant Lewis
  • Effective Debriefing Tools & Techniques w/Michelle Cummings (Webinar available)

Saturday, November 11th: ActivatEE
AEE ActivatEE

ActivatEE is a developmental process, both for the speaker and the audience, where we share ideas, test assumptions, and are asked to view a perspective through a different lens. ActivatEE is designed to facilitate the process of creating one’s story, and the stories told today were about as impactful as they get.  The six presentations contained the following through lines of wisdom:

Gitanjali Sarangan: Inclusion is the gift of presence. Inclusion is being the dance.
Clemencia Caporale: We can't prepare for everything, but we must be prepared to care for ourselves.
T. Grant Lewis: Small acts of kindness remind us that we are never alone.
Jaclyn Ouillette: Focus on the inner journey and let every step be a step of gratitude.
Will Marble: Follow your heart...wherever it takes you.
Maurie Lung: No more silence. 


Workshop Highlight: The Canadian Bacon of Play: Experiential Games, Activities and Initiatives Rooted in Canadian Heritage 

There really was Canadian Bacon plus donuts from Timbits for everyone! Jeff Willis went all out and off script with his workshop. He began by highlighting the Truth and Reconciliation Act and thanking the indigenous people of Montreal. He then quickly went into some Canadian Yoga in which everyone got to be a chicken, moose and bear. The fun continued with fellow Canadians facilitating games including an Inuit tugging game in which partners hook their fingers in the others ones mouth and pull, which sounds rather odd but many of the traditional games are based on strength and the originators of the game wanted to promote strong jaw muscles for chewing walrus skin in order to make items. Stick games followed and laughs abounded. Traditional games often involved laughter and a game called Dox-en-eye has opposing groups trying to make one person break a smile in order to get them on their side. All in all a fun workshop that made you think deeper about the games we play and their origins.

Canadian Bacon

Other popular workshops from today included:

  • 9th Annual Trends and Issues in Outdoor and Adventure Programming Panel Discussion w/Betsy Lindley, Tom Holman & Andrew Bobilya

  • Active Debriefs: Spark Conversations that Matter w/Nate Folan

  • Resolving Trauma through Adventure: Applying a Somatic Experiencing lens to Adventure Therapy w/Sommerville Bevilaqua & Ariana DeToro-Forlenza

  • Introduction to Social and Emotional Learning in Action w/Tara Flippo

 Saturday, November 11th: Closing Keynote and a Magic Moment

AEE Closing

Marilyn Levin, MSW is proud to be a long time AEE member/leader as well our 2012 Karl Rohnke Creativity award winner. She is the author of Experiential Activities for a Better World, and she currently serves as Managing Director of KINS Innovation Networks in collaboration with the Center for Sustainability Solutions.

She helped us bring our conference to a close by reminding us all of the power we have to change the world. Her current mantra, borrowed from a famous first lady, is ‘we go high!’ Her message resonated well with our conference attendees, who are united by the idea that experiential learning can positively transform our world. The essence of going high includes:

  • Don’t add anything into the world that you don’t want in the world
  • Add into the world what you do want in the world
  • Have compassion for yourself and others when you fall short

Simple truths that are easier said than done. We emerged feeling energized and inspired. In true AEE fashion, we wrapped up the session smiling, hugging, and dancing to the sound of Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World.'  We are part of a movement. When others go low, we go high, and as Marilyn likes to remind us…We are SUPERSTARS!

 A Magic Moment

As we exited the closing keynote, we found ourselves greeted by unexpected flute and piano music coming from the atrium. Two of our attendees were playing a traditional Chinese melody, 'Your Love Will be In My Memory.'  We were reminded that part of the magic of experiential education is that it is unscripted...like life!  We never know exactly what the outcome will be, but as educators we believe that when students are given the chance to be creative and collaborative in solving problems and exploring the world, the end result is personal growth and meaningful learning. As we wrap up another successfull conference, we see that the seeds planted by a rag tag group of adventurous educators back in 1972 have grown large enough to embrace the entire planet.  Experiential education matters.  It has moved from the fringes to become one of the most viable and successful models of education and character building that exists. We are growing, we are proud, we are AEE!

Magic Music

We hope to see you all in Orlando in November 2018! 


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