Tag Archives: Professional development

Joining the #Learning2 Family

Well, it has been far too long since I’ve made time for a reflective post here! There are so many posts I still want to write – about the amazing design thinking experience I had at FUSE14, the hubbub of ed tech tools and ideas that always come from attending ISTE, my experiences teaching two new summer classes on Raspberry Pi and coding, and my work facilitating a four day faculty workshop at my school. It was a busy summer (and a hard one)! So busy, clearly, that I haven’t had a chance to write about it … yet.

But instead of trying to rewind, I want to first share some reflections about the wonderful experience I just had at the #Learning2.014 conference at the International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. If you haven’t heard of Learning2 … yet … check out this page about its history and start following the hashtag because there will be a second conference in Bangkok in just one week!

As one of the Learning2 Leaders (L2Ls) at the conference, I had the privilege of arriving a few days early so I could participate in additional prep and professional growth with the other L2Ls and the advisory team. I think this is one of the many things that makes the conference unique and particularly meaningful. If you are going to speak and present at the conference, the advisory helps to make sure that you have an in-depth understanding of how the conference will work, what your role as a leader will be, and then helps you tweak and improve your own work before everyone arrives.

I was able to practice my five minute TED-like “Learning2Talk,“done in the presentation-zen style multiple times for the advisory audience and get critical feedback to help make it stronger. I also had an opportunity to work one-on-one with another L2L so we could share, review, and provide feedback to one another on our three hour Extended Sessions. One of my favorite parts of the pre-conference was hearing a quick elevator pitch from each L2L about what their session would be about and then providing feedback, ideas, and resources to help support that person. Not only did I get some great tips when I shared my own session but I was able to get ideas each time another Leader shared her or his presentation that I could use at the conference or back in my own school!

This type of time and support for presenters is awesome because it makes it so much easier to continue growing as a speaker and educator and it also helped to develop a deeper community of practice among the L2Ls that I hope we can continue to build and pull on in the future (hint hint). I wish every conference provided and even required this type of experience for its presenters.

Once all of the L2Ls had practiced and improved their presentations and prepared their spaces for the different sessions, it was time to kick-off the conference!

Learning2 is made up of 6 core components:

  1. Learning2Talks
  2. Extended Sessions
  3. Nutshell Sessions (45 min. versions of Extended Sessions)
  4. Workshops
  5. Unconference
  6. Cohorts 

In addition to these pieces, there is an emphasis on, and time set aside for, social connections that are woven throughout each day.

This social dimension is designed very purposefully because one of the principles of the conference is to “put participants first” and another is an understanding that “learning is a social act.” Therefore, making time for all of the participants to talk, reflect, share and even rest is critical. This was demonstrated multiple times during the conference when the organizers made changes in response to participants’ requests (e.g., changing bus times to accommodate requests to arrive/leave at different times and creating a “mindfulness centre” for participants to pause and be mindful).

Another way that participants get to drive the conference is by running workshops and suggesting and facilitating unconference sessions. This allows time and space for attendees to share their own areas of expertise and also to have a forum to talk about questions and ideas that might pop-up during the conference. For example, I attended an unconference session about social media in early elementary. It was proposed by an attendee who heard about the idea of social media being used with young children and want to hear from other people who were trying it and what the benefits might be. It turned into a great conversation and through Twitter, I was even able to invite a kindergarten teacher I know who uses social media extensively with her students, to join the discussion virtually!

This week, as I’ve been recovering from jet lag and trying to get back into my usual school routine, I’ve used moments lying in bed at night or in-between classes to reflect about what was so meaningful about my Learning2 experience. I’ve concluded that two elements really made it into one of the best conferences I have attended: an almost perfect learning menu to select from each day and the community.

Similar to going to your favorite restaurant, Learning2 has a menu of 6+ options that you can choose from and each one is great but has a unique flavor and might meet a different person’s tastes or interests. There’s something for everyone and probably a few options that might push you outside of your comfort zone, but that’s what learning is all about, right? :) For example, you can go in-depth and work hands-on for three hours into just one specific topic or you can answer burning questions you have in a cohort session or you can get bite-sized pieces of new knowledge and ideas from the poster sessions. There’s something for everyone, allowing the conference to meet so many different learning needs.

Then, there’s the community. This is really the cornerstone of Learning2 for me and I think many other attendees. The Learning2 community is powerful because it’s inviting and passionate. Although the conference has been running since 2007, there wasn’t the exclusiveness to it that I’ve seen at other conferences. Too often, it’s hard to break into the group if you’re not a “groupie” of the conference. Instead, Learning2 was all about networking, branching out, and meeting new colleagues who you could connect with and then stay in-touch with later through social media. It was about having time to engage in those passionate conversations about teaching and learning and the best tools to help meet varied goals and needs of different contexts.

I would go as far as to say that Learning2 was about becoming part of a family, a large, diverse, and geographically spread out family that loves to share, reflect, learn, and connect. It’s also a family that loves to have fun and that joy, of being together and learning together, was pervasive throughout the conference.

So, if you have a chance to attend a Learning2 conference, I highly encourage it and if it’s a bit too far for you to travel (at least until they are up in running in Europe and the Middle East), then jump in and join our active #Learning2 community on social media! Thanks again to everyone who helped make the #Learning2.014 Africa experience so memorable and for inviting me into the family.

Let’s Let All Educators Learn by Experience

learning to paint

Last week, I had the unique opportunity to take an impromptu painting class as part of a professional development program I’m involved in at my school. The interesting part was that learning to paint wasn’t the ultimate goal. Instead, our focus was on the experience.

  • What does it feel like to be a novice and learner and, for many of us, in a foreign context?
  • How does learning by doing differ from sitting in a classroom and being told how to learn or what to do?
  • What does painting show us about the importance of each individual learner’s perspective?

These were just a few of the questions that began to emerge as the evening progressed. All us in the class worked to paint a still life after receiving nothing more than a brief 15 minute instructional tutorial.

I thought about other experiential learning experiences I’ve had, whether they’ve involved learning to program an Arduino or making jewelry, they have all been powerful. What makes these experiences so meaningful? Do my students experience the same benefits?

There seem to be some core components that help make experiential learning both memorable and a natural entry point into deep learning:

  • Opportunities to learn with/from peers –> community of learners
  • Appreciation for individuality and varying skills –> self-awareness
  • Being receptive to feedback and critique –> growth
  • Diving in with minimal training or prep –> learn as you go
  • Setting your own learning goals –> empowerment
  • Ownership of the work –> intrinsic motivation
  • Freedom to take risks –> creative innovation

How can we find ways to integrate these components into everyday classroom learning? I’ve found that two new educational movements or approaches facilitate this work very well: the Maker Movement and Design Thinking.

The first is sweeping the nation, as shown in part by Obama’s announcement this week to host a Maker Faire at the White House this year! Making as a mindset for learning involves encouraging students to create products and be completely immersed in inventing and tinkering as they follow their passions. There are more and less scaffolded approaches to making and many schools are struggling right now with how to assess and structure making but in my Maker Club, I’ve seen students thrive. Students that might feel hesitant talking in class are suddenly giving me detailed explanations about the projects they’ve built and taking on new roles as collaborators and designers. They’re excited to learn and enthusiastic about taking risks and developing new skills.

The second approach, Design Thinking, involves challenging students to respond to prompts like “How might we …” to solve real-world problems. By exploring, researching, empathizing, prototyping, seeking feedback, improving, and creating a final product, students engage in deep learning experiences. Whether they are trying to solve global water issues or prototype a new and better snowplow, students are experiencing many of the components I listed above while also learning valuable skills they can use for life.

I’m still learning daily about both the maker movement and design thinking and ways to integrate them meaningfully in schools. And although I’m also still reflecting on the answers to the questions that first came to mind during our painting class, I’m also wondering how we can infuse more of these experiences into our lives as educators?

My biggest takeaway from our painting class was:

It’s extremely important to engage in learning experiences where you are inspired and motivated to wonder, particularly in settings where you are asked to take risks, learn from the perspectives of your peers, and think critically about your pedagogy.

I think that in addition to seeking ways to integrate more experiential learning opportunities for students, we need to be asking how to create and offer more of them for teachers too. Take a look at our experience when we were asked to learn by painting (captured with Google Glass!):

What I Learned at the #ettipad Summit

Last week, I attended the Ed Tech Teacher iPad (#ettipad) Summit in Boston. The entire conference was focused on using iPads … and yet, it wasn’t. It was announced at the start of the conference that if you were there looking for “an app for that” then you were in the wrong place because #ettipad was a summit for educators to think about the pedagogical implications of integrating these devices. Of course, plenty of practical tips were still shared and there was a lot of technical guidance being provided and exchanged at the conference.

I appreciated that the core focus wasn’t so much on what tech we were using but how and why we were using certain apps or tools. For example, multiple sessions and speakers discussed the idea of “app smashing” or “app flows” which combine and  build upon content that’s created in multiple apps to develop a unique product that students can share with the world. It doesn’t necessarily matter which apps you use in your flow, as long as they’re “empty apps that users fill with knowledge and share.” This idea of creating and sharing knowledge was a key part of David Weinberger’s opening keynote. He raised some questions and ideas about how we define knowledge that I want to continue examining and reflecting on.

In the past, we have defined knowledge based upon the scope of what we can manage, so facts and stories were cut from encyclopedias or words were left out of dictionaries to prevent us from having endless books that no one could carry. Now, how we acquire and use knowledge is changing. We have new, digital mediums, which gives us access to content at a much faster rate and on a larger scale. Everything is linked together, so while a Wikipedia article may not encompass all of the data needed to explain a topic, it is full of links to other sources which provide more and then more information. Even academic research is being pushed out to the public for faster review and discussion. As Dr. Puentedura mentioned, the public now has access to Watson, the IBM supercomputer that could make it possible to “Google” answers to complex medical problems or other challenging questions.

Knowledge Notes

The public nature of knowledge was something else Dr. Weinberger emphasized in his keynote, saying that if ideas are to be scalable, they have to become public and be shared early, with large groups of people so they can be available for debate and disagreement. This also connects to the value of having open access and making (educational) resources open and available for anyone to use and remix or build on. This includes our students’ work and the knowledge they’re building! This process can be messy but Dr. Weinberger suggests that it’s from that messiness that we end up with new knowledge that can create change and growth.

The problem with all of these developments and this redefinition of how we conceptualize knowledge is that our school systems and classrooms are not necessarily structured to support it and instead, teachers end up trying to teach students to stick to old (outdated?) ways of learning and knowing.

It seems like this is where tools like the iPad and educators who are open to adapting their pedagogy to new definitions of knowledge, can have an important impact. If we can be willing to question what we know and how we know it, we can help our students begin that same journey of looking deeply at knowledge and designing new ways to share and express it. As we try these new projects and approaches, we might fail and we might fail often but I think many of us have come to see the value in failure and modeling that experience for students.

So, if our goal is to create engaging, agile learning environments where both teachers and students feel like they are striving to achieve something awesome, we need to think critically about our recipe for teaching. Does it include ingredients like:

ipad teaching ingredients

And finally, does it include your students’ voice and choice?

If you want to hear more about #ettipad, check out the notes and ideas that I compiled in Storify.

P.S. I realized that while I called this post “What I learned at the #ettipad Summit” I really should clarify that this is some or maybe even a little of what I learned. There’s much more I’m still reflecting on and I hope to share more of my takeaways as they become clearer and better synthesized.

New Goals for a New School Year!

The start of school has been extremely busy this year! Before we get too far into September, I wanted to record some of my goals for the 2013-2014 school year.

After finally finishing my room setup, I realized that I actually have visual representations of all six of my goals displayed around my room. The first, on-going goal I have is to continue creating and facilitating global learning opportunities for my students.

global ed

Last year, I was able to set up a few different Skype exchanges with New Zealand, Alaska, and Minnesota as well as some collaborations through projects around social studies and science explorations. I hope to expand those projects this year and introduce more tools to students that they can use for global collaboration. I really want to help establish the idea that technology can be used as a tool for meaningful learning and exchange across the globe.

Related to that goal, I hope to use my Google Glass (won via the #IfIHadGlass competition) to connect my students with other students around the world. I recently launched The Global Google Glass Project, inviting teachers to sign their classes up to participate in a variety of projects that would take advantage of the first-person perspective of Glass. Additionally, I want to push myself to use Glass consistently throughout the year as a tool for documentation to capture moments of student learning and discovery each day. You can check out more of my exploration with Glass on my Tumblr.

google glass bulletin board

Of course, if I’m asking my students to use the Internet to connect and collaborate with others around the world, I need to be talking with them about digital citizenship. I used parts of the Commonsense Media curriculum last year but this year I want to spend a lot more time discussing topics like: staying safe online, how to search the web effectively, and understanding the Creative Commons. To help with this, I’ll be using the Commonsense Media elementary school digital citizenship poster, who we have named Danielle the Digital Citizen, to personify the qualities of a good digital citizen and make these ideas more relatable for my young students.

digital citizenship bulletin board

In addition to being digital citizens, I’m hoping my students will become Makers, who Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager define as “confident, competent, curious citizens in a new world of possibility.” I’m starting an afterschool Maker Club for my Kindergarten – 2nd Grade students to provide them with more opportunities to be exposed to tools, projects, and ideas that encourage creating, tinkering, and making. I’m excited to have this time to introduce materials like Makedo and Little Bits and also let students guide me in designing new projects and researching new tools. Outside of the club, when possible, I hope to also integrate making into the classroom when it connects to the curriculum or the technology projects we’re engaged in this year.

Maker Bulletin Board

I’m also striving to increase my knowledge of iPad deployment, integration, management, and training this year, as we introduce twelve iPads in our Pre-K class and one in each of our kindergarten classes. I had a few iPads to share last year across all of the classes I work with but I think having them in these classes full-time will create a different experience. I want to continue exploring quality app review sites and rubrics and learning more about how to adapt the SAMR model as a framework for iPad integration in early childhood. My goal is to help the iPads become a seamless addition to each classroom as a tool for creation, collaboration, and communicating new ideas or reflecting on things that were just learned.

Maker Bulletin Board

Finally, although this is probably a guaranteed outcome if I work towards the five goals above, I want to make professional growth an ongoing goal this year. Last year I participated in a few MOOCs for the first time and attended or presented at some new conferences. I want to make sure that in all of the busyness of the school year and my new projects, that I still carve out time to develop professionally and stay current with new tools and approaches to tech integration.

I think one of the most valuable things you can do as an educator is participate in groups or activities that inspire and push you to grow and continue learning and doing/making. With that in mind, I hope to attend at least one new conference this year, submit some presentation proposals, read at least one new book in my field, and participate in some online communities and/or MOOCs around my goals.

I think that’s enough for one school year! Now, it’s time to get busy with the actual implementation piece.

inspiration to grow

What are your goals for this school year?

Do you have any tips or resources to help me meet mine?