I was very excited this year as I finally got to attend all three days of ITEC. I attended a workshop on Sunday dealing with “Emerging Technologies to Assist Struggling Learners” which was presented by Tammy Lind. I found out about a lot of great tools and methods to assist struggling learners as well as other methods that I have tried before but I found new ways to modify what I have done. I prepared for the session by creating a Google Doc that I then shared with my fellow teachers back at Ames High. I wanted to be sure that anything I learned, I was able to share right away. I was also hoping that if teachers had any questions about what I was putting into my notes, they could leave a comment and we could have a discussion to further both of our learning. It is important that we always bring back and share with others what we learn, that is a big part of the learning process. I had even set up forums in our Moodle site so that we could have a central place for sharing. I have high hopes for this tool and am encouraging the use as I believe this can help us learn better as a community of teachers. One of the biggest things I took away from Sunday was that we can best help our students by giving them options in how they can show they are learning. We should not be so fixated on one tool but should have a whole toolbox that they can use to learn and to show their learning. We need to be focused on the student needs and not just on our own.
The full conference started on Monday which always means that I finally got to meet people that I had “met” on Twitter. I enjoy finally meeting the people I have been following or conversing with online, it helps create a strong connection and can greatly increase the effectiveness of being a connected educator. As October is National Connected Educators Month, it seemed like good timing for me to make more connections and make the ones I already had stronger. This is one of the main reasons I enjoy attending teacher conferences, the connections we make can help us become better teachers and that is very important. The theme of “connectedness” was echoed many times throughout the two days of the full conference. Twitter is not the only way that we connect but it is a great way and can help us, even those that are not great at putting themselves out there, connect with other educators and allows us to create new learning opportunities. Jeff Utecht, the keynote speaker on Tuesday, made many comments about how our students are becoming connected in ever increasing ways and that they need to be connected in our classrooms as well. There will be more on Jeff’s talk later.
The first session I went to on Monday was by Megan Moran, a teacher from Township School District 211 who implemented a Flipped Mastery classroom for her Math classes. As a teacher who has flipped before, I am always curious as to how other teachers flip their classes especially when they include a mastery component with standards based grading. When I flipped my classroom it was to include those two things, mastery and standards based, because those were techniques that I was doing research on that had a great impact on student learning. The technology was not the focus of the instruction, the technology allowed me to change my instruction to better meet the true needs of the classroom and implement a system more focused on what the student was learning rather than on what I was teaching. It was very refreshing to see someone else do many of the same things that I did and the fact that she was finding success with it made this a great way to start the day.
The rest of the sessions all taught me some new things and allowed me to reflect on what I had done previously. My notes for the three days can be found here. I could write forever about the stuff that I learned or that others had learned and then shared through Twitter, but time does not allow for that. Instead I want to focus on what Jeff Utecht talked about and the ideas that went through my head afterwards.
Jeff Utecht, http://www.jeffutecht.com/, gave one of the best keynote presentations that I had ever seen in person. His focus was on education and not on any tool or specific technique. He has some great experiences and he is able to share some great ideas in a very engaging way. I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff the night before at a social and was excited to hear him speak. I can not wait to share his talk with the rest of our staff at Ames High School as soon as it is posted online by the students at Webster City. (Sidenote: I thought it was awesome that the video work was done by students at Webster City High School because it also gave them the chance to learn more about what teachers do at conferences and how many of us proudly model being lifelong learners.) The video will eventually be posted on the ITEC Eduvision site, https://itec.eduvision.tv/default.aspx. For now you can see a previous talk by Jeff.
Jeff also shared his resources for the day at http://jeffutecht.com/itec/.
Jeff’s talk started by acknowledging three students who were sitting in the front row, while most teachers were sitting towards the back, who were at the conference because they were part of the student tech team at their school. It was great to acknowledge those students, because we do not do enough to acknowledge those types of students who take chances and excel in areas outside of just athletics. We are very quick to hold assemblies to celebrate a win in a sporting event but not to celebrate the student who shared their poetry with the world, the student who travels to a conference to share ideas and maybe even present, the student who excels in an area that does not earn them a letter grade or a letter on their jacket. There were also two videos shown during the talk that showcased what students could do, even if it wasn’t assigned to them or graded. We often forget that students learn everywhere, not just in the 45 minutes that we get them. We need to encourage that learning and find ways to support it, even if it means our curriculum takes a back seat. Our curriculum may be important, but the students are the most important part and they should always be the focus instead of some document produced well before we even met these students. The first video was of a kid who was attempting to build a Rube Goldberg device, a complex device in itself, and get it to work on video. He even hypothesized how many times it would fail, he thought it would fail a lot of times, but yet he still attempted it knowing he would most likely fail and would just have to try again. How often do we let our students attempt things knowing that not only that they could fail but that we will allow them to try again and keep trying till they are successful. No one gets everything right the first time but how many lesson plans are set up that require you to get it right the first time or you will forever have to deal with a bad grade. The Rube Goldberg video
The next video was a mashup video combining a popular song at the time with information about the Mars Rover. This student did this because they were bored, not because it was assigned. The student did their own research and integrated the music perfectly. They didn’t just throw the song and video together, they made sure they were connected in many ways. Again, this was not assigned, but they learned something that we try to teach in language arts without having a teacher to tell them they had to. How are we not encouraging more of this? And if your school blocks Youtube, you do not get to watch this. I feel bad for those teachers and students. The student even emailed the artist asking for permission to use the song, because that is something we can do nowadays. She did not just steal it, she connected with the artist and got permission, that in itself is awesome. Enjoy watching it.
(Jeff did bring up the point asking how many teachers showed this awesome feat of landing a rover the size of a small car on a planet so far away. Many would not because it did not fit into the specific curriculum, but yet this is a learning experience and it is an awesome feat of humanity to place this machine successfully on another planet.)
I could write a lot more but I feel this post is already getting too long, so I will finish with some ideas that popped into my head or were stated by others throughout the conference. If only 10% of our students are creating, how can we encourage this to happen more? What are we doing as teachers to encourage creation rather than consuming, and how can we as teachers create ourselves? Students have never known a world where the computer was not connected to the internet, they have always been connected. Why do we try so hard to disconnect them when this is the world in which they live? Why do our schools have 21st century technology but 20th century teaching techniques? How can we use tools like social media and gaming to encourage learning, even if the teacher is not comfortable with them initially? Why do we let fear dictate our lessons more than our hope? Lastly, if a teacher is too afraid to learn something new themselves, how can they ever expect their students to learn something, what are they modeling to the students?