On the Ground at the 2012 Building Learning Communities Conference

On the Ground at the 2012 Building Learning Communities Conference

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The meeting originated as a brainstorming session amongst four friends to share ideas around what practices they saw working well in the classroom; this year 820 people attended. K-12 teachers comprised about half the audience; another 25% were district technology leads. People came to participate: to bond, share, collaborate and finally to take action after the conference ends. (A packed agenda of 90 sessions across three days didn't leave anyone time to dawdle.) Here's the twitter feed:  #blc12. Here, too, are some of the ideas that grabbed the spotlight:

International Dot Day

Inspired by Peter H. Reynolds award winning children’s book, "The Dot", teachers can sign up to have their class or school participate in International Dot Day, held annually on (or around) "September 15th-ish". Also check out Reynolds site, FableVision, for more creative K-12 classroom resources.

The First Five Days

During the opening keynote, Alan November announced a new project called "The First Five Days," aimed at spurring an international conversation about how to use the beginning of the school year to set the tone and tempo for the year.Teachers can take part by going here, clicking on "Register" and then clicking on the tab for "Five." There's a new hashtag, too: #1st5Days.

Flipping lessons using TED

Want to try turning a YouTube video--literally any out there--into the basis for a lesson plan? Chris Anderson, curator of the mega-sensation TED talks, shared an incredible tool for amplifying teachers' voices and flipping lessons. In beta, it lets you "use, tweak, or completely redo any lesson featured on TED-Ed, or create lessons from scratch based on any video from YouTube." Learn about it--and better--try it out here.

iSchool Initiative

Here's a bus that should make a stop at every school. Mr. Travis Allen started the iSchool Initiative in 2009 when he got an iPhone for Christmas and tried to use it in school. (His teacher discouraged him.) Now his bus brings 25 students passionate about improving education through mobile technologies to schools for a day of professional development for those teachers. (Yep, they were at ISTE, too! Here's the blog post that describes it.) The story behind the creation of this student-led effort can be seen on their YouTube channel here.

Mapping the Road to Innovation: Lessons Learned

November Learning’s Brian Mull provided some great insights from 20 school district technology assessments that November Learning has performed over the last 12 months. Among his recommendations:

  • Start with the mission statement and vision for the school. If one doesn’t exist, create one. Allow a forum for leadership to express their greatest hopes and fears with regards to how technology can support this mission statement.
  • Change the name of any "Technology Committee" to "Learning Design Committee". Start to forge a culture where technology is embedded into all aspects of curriculum design, and not thought of as some separate and distinct practice area.
  • Technology literacy has to be a focus area so that students can learn how the internet was designed and is currently structured. They need to learn advanced "scope and sequence" search skills so they can go beyond the typical "type and pray" search in Google.
  • Collaborate with others outside the classroom every day. Teach a section of a course in tandem with another class geographically far away. ePals can help. Skype with the authors of the books that you are reading. You can find authors who are willing to do this here.
  • Rethink the physical space of the library. Cushing Academy got rid of 10,000 physical books but had to hire more librarians after they created their "learning center".

Lessons from Singapore

Thomas Daccord, Co-Director of EdTechTeacher, spent four weeks with the Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST) and the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) learning about that country's education directions. Singapore is comprised of 1 district with four million students (in contrast with America with 14,000 districts and 20+ million students). Mr. Daccord he felt there were three particular powerful Singapore practices that US schools should consider building into their practices:

  • A strong alignment & coherence of pedagogy and curriculum from pre-school through graduate studies
  • Continuous, tough, teacher assessment is part of the culture
  • A "pervasive professionalism" in the teaching profession with multiple tracks not limited to teaching in the classroom full time.

Getting to Angry Birds

For any teacher looking for technology to help improve classroom behavior, Lachlan Hull, a Kindergarten teacher from Australia, gave a great shout out to Class Dojo. Once behavior in his class improved, Mr. Hull had an absolutely amazing story of self-directed learning with his five-year-old students leveraging Angry Birds. Check out his podcast interview or youtube video to learn more about the amazing work he is doing.

Crowd sourcing Edu Content

Tom Barrett from No Tosh Limited led a great discussion on how teachers can put their networks of peers into action whenever they need to crowd source answers. He suggests:

  • Create a space with zero barriers to entry
  • Remember small contributions count
  • Provide a clear focus for the group
  • You be the facilitator
  • Share everywhere you can.

To demonstrate the power of crowd sourcing, and in the spirit of "participation" that the BLC12 conference encourages, the 40 participants actually wrote a reference guide for crowd sourcing during the 90-minute presentation. You can link to it here, which is chock full of ideas and links from other teachers. Amazing!

Formative Assessment

Understanding what to teach next on an individual student-by-student basis represents the "Holy Grail" of personalized learning. Rhode Island based startup, Metryx, showed off the beta of its tool for helping teachers keep track of formative assessments and student progress. More on the beta here.

Future of the Flipped Classroom

Great "do's and don'ts" for those who want to flip the classroom from Aaron Sams from The Flipped Learning Network:

  • Pull inspirational videos from any source but create your own videos for actual instruction in your class.
  • Don’t let socio-economic barriers serve as an excuse not to flip. Figure out how to get students what they need – you can give kids the videos on flash drives, or even dvds to watch on their TV.
  • Make the lessons interactive.
  • Don’t front load a class with videos. Introduce them as a tool during the middle.
  • If you are in elementary school teaching, think "flipped lesson" rather than entire school year or course.
  • Within Blooms model, "flip" in the "remember" and "understand" phases of learning.
  • Let go of the content! Just because you didn’t create it doesn’t mean it’s not good, or even better than what you could ever teach!

Conference BHAG

A "BHAG" is a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. Greg Whitby, co-chair of the conference, closed the final day with these four thoughts and BHAG to teachers:

  • In today’s school systems, attendance is compulsory and learning is optional. He challenged everyone to flip that relationship and help advocate to change the laws and curriculum standards that make attendance optional but learning compulsory.
  • Kids deserve great teachers. If there are lectures and videos from teachers on your expertise that are better than what you can do, by all means use them. Lose the ego. The job description of a teacher may be changing, but it does not diminish the importance of being a great coach, mentor, and lifelong influence on the children you teach, even if you are no longer the "sage on stage"
  • Don’t experiment with kids. We know what works with regards to designing pedagogy and learning curriculums. Embed technology to support this, not try something whacky or irresponsible.
  • Start yesterday!

Additional resources mentioned by teachers

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