I am just days removed from my first ICE conference and have come away with a number of lessons. One of the first things is that ICE is an amazing conference loaded with great sessions and incredible educators. It was a great experience and I am looking forward to returning to ICE again next year. The sessions were filled with amazing takeaways presented by passionate educators sharing some of the great things they are doing with students. I learned about ways to offer Professional Development, creating videos, gamification,
One of the highlights include a guided tour of the resort with keynote speaker, the amazing Adam Bellow. It was an opportunity that happened by chance but more importantly because he is an phenomenal individual who is incredibly down to earth. ICE provided opportunities to spend some real quality time with some really big name educators because it is an intimate venue jam packed with educational awesomeness.
Another cool experience was Steve Dembo's session on MEMEs. It was entertaining and filled with many examples of how to use MEMEs for classroom activities. You can have students present their understanding of a topic using a MEME, a fake tweet, or other short text visual. There were many examples that stood out in his session, but what I will take away from that session was his interaction with his son who was in the front row during his session. Earlier in the day his son presented a session with him. This father son connection in learning made me think about the possibilities to connect with my daughters in creating learning activities.
1. Authentic Learning is Key
I have been a proponent of having students complete tasks for audiences beyond the classroom teacher for years. After attending the session on authentic learning by Tracy Crowley @tracycrowley77 I was inspired by what was truly possible in terms of authentic learning. A couple key points she made were that authentic learning is not creating tasks for parents or another class in your school. Authentic learning is about solving a problem a real world problem. She provided a few examples from her own experience. One of those was elementary students creating PSA video about an issue they were having with their playground. They wrote, directed, and edited the video asking their superintendent to add more wood chips to their playground so their classroom would be a clean safe learning environment. This stood out because the kids were completely engaged and in the end they were successful. Learning needs to be meaningful, authentic and based on things that matter to students.
2. Technology needs to be used purposefully
Tech is a tool and implementing tech into a lesson will not automatically make it better. This may seem strange advice especially at a tech conference but this message resonated throughout many sessions I attended. Technology should not be something that we simply check a box to say we used it. Instead it should be purposefully implemented to enhance best practices. During the lesson planning process we need to have a vision for what we want students to do and how they will show mastery. While I am a huge proponent of technology, I am a champion for engaging students in the learning process even if that means there is no technology involved. I want to see best teaching practices utilized regardless. With that said, we need to continue to assist teachers with their growth in the use of technology. I attended a great session called Techventure where the two presenters created a game based strategy to provide teachers with individualized tech PD offerings. Teachers can do training modules when it fits their schedule and earn badges and certificates when completed. The layout of their site and their vision is inspiring. I am already working on ideas for how to implement this in our district.
3. No matter how many times you interact with someone or hear about a topic there are still learning opportunities.
I don't think this is a new idea for most of us. I am sure there are times when you reread a text, watch a video, or talk to someone about a topic on a second or third occasion. My revelation came when sitting in a gamification session with Michael Matera. He and I first connected a couple years ago and have connected via Twitter more times than I can count. We have been at edcamps and even co-presented a session at one. I have attended multiple sessions on gamification he has presented as well. It was during his mini-games session this past week that I realized that no matter how many times I hear or talk with Michael about gamification I continue to learn. The more we explore a topic the more knowledge we extract about the topic. This is not only a lesson for us on our own quest for knowledge, but should be used to guide our instruction of students. We need to provide students multiple opportunities to engage in important learning. Learning focused on skills such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, creation, and inquiry.
4. Not being the smartest person in the room is awesome!
ICE is a conference loaded with phenomenal educators who are extremely knowledgeable and are true leaders of change in education. When attending an event like this I quickly realized I had no chance of being the smartest person in the room. What a freeing feeling. Unlike the feeling we sometimes experience in front of students who have a plethora of questions where we may think we need to know everything. At ICE, I felt no pressure to have all the answers. I found that I could ask questions and best of all I was able to learn and learn from some of the most amazing educators all in one place. I got to turn off my teacher hat and put on my student hat.
5. Teachers are fun!
This conference was a blast. The opportunities to learn were incalculable. I have outlined a few of those already. One of the most significant lessons is that Teachers are truly a fun group of people to hang out with. I got to know colleagues in ways I wouldn't normally in the confines of a school setting. I was able to connect with and learn about members of my PLN that I had previously only known via social media. The true lesson is to let your personality shine through in your classroom! Teachers wear many hats and we sometimes have to take off the hats that get in the way of letting others see more of who we are.
6. Get up early- the plumbers come early and water is good.
The final take away is all about preparation. My colleague and I were able to stay off site with a relative of his. One thing that we overlooked was that the plumbers were coming early on Friday morning. We woke to the sound of the plumbers beginning their work on the water pipes. What we quickly realized is to do the work they needed to shut off the water. This resulted in our lack of water to complete the most important morning ritual the ever popular shower. So ICE was a great experience even with a little hiccup in the adventure.
Thanks to all those who organized, presented and attended ICE. It was something I won't soon forget and appreciate all the connections I made.
I The other day during a car ride with my daughter we embarked on an amazing learning journey. She was watching a video on Slavery from BrainPop. The video did a good job of providing an overview of the issues of Slavery and the causes of the Civil War as related to slavery. It detailed the beginnings of slavery in America and including the Triangular Trade Route, treatment of slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation. There were some really good details in the video, but as I listened, I was compelled to ask my daughter some questions to delve into deeper levels of understanding.
I asked her if she thought all the people in the North wanted to end slavery, that they all disliked it? After she responded, I added details about my educational journey. That it wasn't until my junior year of college in a African American literature class that I truly began to see history as a complex web of personal stories all told from various points of view. I began to see the events that shaped this country were not exactly what I was led to believe in history text books, or the multitude of classes I had attended.
I didn't explain this to her, instead I told her that when I was her age I thought everyone in the North disliked Slavery and everyone in the South wanted desperately to hold onto the practice. I truly saw the North as the benevolent Abolitionists and the South as morally corrupt and despised them. I continued the conversation adding an overview of the economic differences as they impacted the need for the different labor practices. And as I am reading this I realize it sounds like the conversation would go way over her head. I realize I am not doing a good job with the dialogue we had. What I am really trying to portray the learning that I experienced during this conversation.
While I was trying to explain to her the causes of the Civil War especially looking at the idea of how one side was trying to tell the other side what to do I saw the connection between so many other events in history. The revelation is simple. We too often overlook the point of view of certain parties/groups/people involved in history by telling the story from the victors point of view. Now this might not be ground breaking for many, but in this instance it led to a flurry of potential examples. I began to see a multitude of historical events in a new light. We have learned about history from a particular lens that often doesn't include the multitude of perspectives or their complexities.
From this I had the honest question- how do southern states teach about the Civil War? In the North we focused on slavery. Yes as I got older there was more talk of other causes, but honestly slavery was still front and center.
As I began to ponder the question about how the south would teach this, I took a step back and thought about how the south viewed the causes of the Civil War. I wonder if their version would have focused more on the tyranny of a distant government trying to impose its will upon them. The actions of this government in the North trying to take away their livelihood.
The lessons for History!
This perspective lead me to a whole list of similar events in history that made me take pause and consider from a different point of view.
America celebrates Independence Day, how does Great Britain view this day and more importantly the Revolutionary War?
America fought to make the world safe for Democracy, how do the countries where we engaged in war view our presence and our actions?
America worked to create peace in the Middle East. In doing so it funded Iran with the Iran-Contra Affair as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Both countries were waging war agains the other going into battle with American made weapons. How do these people view American involvement and how has that impacted modern events?
America considers the colonists who fought against the tyranny of Great Britain's rule as heroes, yet the southern secessionists could be considered traitors. Or another example the colonists were freedom fighters from America's point of view for standing up to a government trying to impose its will and its way of life on others. Would groups like Al-Queda and ISIS see themselves as terrorists or freedom fighters? Why is it important to consider their point of view?
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor to bring the US into WWII, and America dropped the only Atomic bombs in history on Japan to end the war. How would Japanese teach these events in their history classes? How does the world look at America for being the only country to use these weapons on other human beings and yet today strictly controls who is able to have access to this technology.
How do we tell the story of inequality throughout the world?
How do other nations view America's excess, disposable technologies, and affluent lifestyle, when they are unable to obtain adequate food, water and healthcare?
How do the 42 million Americans living in poverty view politicians, superpacs, the rich debating what is best for America- talking about jobs, entitlements when they struggle daily?
How would the industrial workers in America tell the story of the Industrial Revolution?
How would Native Americans retell the events of Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion?
How would our textbooks and historical perspective be different if we recorded the Immigrant POV and not just an overview?
How would we view war if we told it from the Soldier's POV like Stephen Ambrose attempted to do in Citizen Soldier?
Our current system of education is antiquated. It is designed to produce workers in and industrial society, not 21st century careers many of which currently don't even exist. The discussion of changing our educational system is not something that I could do justice to in one post. For now let's look at an aspect of education that is within our immediate control to change and can assist in the revolution to improve education in general.
We are in an uphill battle in education. We are fighting TTWWHADI That's The Way We Have Always Done It! Education is rich in tradition however we often hold onto ways that are outdated and in some cases detrimental to our students. I have had many conversations with adults of my parents generation discussing how education was when they were in school. They discuss having to memorize the Preamble of the Constitution, and other facts, never having a snow day, the ruler smacks to the knuckles and other horror stories. Some I find difficult to believe but they do tell the stories with passion. The point being they reminisce about their experiences as being sound educational practices.
There In order to make change we need to first reflect on what we currently do, and what we hope to accomplish. The second part of this conversation should not be done in isolation. To truly understand what our goals for education should be, we need to engage in conversation with other educational leaders. We need to seek out other's to shape our vision for education. Through the examination of our current practices through the lens of where we want to go, we should be able to see areas of best practices and areas we need to improve.
There are amazing conversations about education both the great things happening and ideas for reform occurring daily. These discussions happen in person in school hallways, at conferences on line via Social Media, and in many other ways.
Recognizing that there are so many amazing conversations already taking place, shouldn't there be positive change being made globally? There are a number of issues hindering the positive revolution to reform education.
1. The establishment. There is a large bureaucracy in education that is often difficult to make progress due to the size of organization.
2. Outside forces. Educational decisions are often influenced or made based on powerful forces like legislative bodies, educational supply corporations like textbook or testing companies.
3. Contentment. - There are those who believe that the way things have been are as good as they can or should be. Those who think if it was good enough for me when I was in school, why do students need it today.
4. Lack of Funding.- To create innovation we often have to invest in new or different resources. This is often expensive when you apply the multiplier effect. It is often difficult to get public funding when it is one of the few opportunities taxpayers have a direct say on whether they want to pay more taxes. There is no vote on funding war, or other policies, but there is a vote for education.
5. Lack of cohesive vision.-
There is a definite need for a common vision for education. To revolutionize education and truly change the way we educate and support students we have to not only continue the conversations about the great things happening but to take action. One of the most important aspect of this revolution is the Vision for Education. I have engaged in many conversations about the vision for education. There are many ways I have heard this answered. This is an issue with making the change many passionate educators want to see. We all have our own version of what what that vision should be.
There may never be one agreed upon vision for education, but we need to formulate some non-negotiable aspects of our vision for education. Here are some possible examples:
1. Education must be student centered.
2. Education must be relevant and meaningful for students
3. Education must be engage students as active participants
4. Education must give students voice and choice.
5. Education must develop student skills to be problem solvers, thinkers and creators.
I could add other ideas that should be considered such as rethinking our grading and homework practices. There are still those who think extra credit for turning assignments in early, or bringing in school supplies deserve extra credit. Or those who think we should punish students for not doing homework by down grading them for turning it in late or not at all. Those are topics that people still debate about. These are just a couple examples of why a common vision in education can be difficult to achieve.
It is however worth engaging in the difficult conversations to challenge our own thinking and that of others because each time it leads us closer to making changes in our own and other's educational practices. The real change in education may come through grass roots activities generating large support that eventually grows into systematic change. We must start with dialogue on vision and mission and back it up with modeling best practices for others to emulate.