iOTF Conference

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the iOnTheFuture (iOTF) conference at Turramurra North PS and without a doubt, it was the best PD I’ve ever been to. It was unlike any other PD I’ve attended. Firstly, it was on a Saturday. Despite this, hundreds and hundreds of interested teachers were there. In fact, because it was a Saturday, some schools were able to send their entire staff along. How awesome! It was also unique in that participants were able to personalise their schedule for the day and choose which speakers we wanted to hear and which master classes we wanted to take part in and when. It was an inspiring day where I was moved to tears on more than one occasion by the guest speakers and what they had to share. I can’t help but want to write about it and share my day.

The day started at 8am. Not parking/registration/mingling etc, but the first guest speakers started speaking at 8am! I loved it already. I heard from Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner first. When I first saw their names on the iOTF list months ago, I hadn’t actually heard of them before and as they are Australian educators, I was very interested in finding out more about them. I discovered they had co-written a book called Edupreneur: Unleashing teacher led innovation in schools which I found a really interesting read and highly recommend. They also started Education Changemakers.  Well their presentation yesterday was just as wonderful and an amazingly uplifting way to start the day. They both shared a bit about how they got into education. Dave studied and got into teaching young and was already a principal in an Australian school by age 24! Aaron on the other hand had a military career at first and then ended up running a secondary school for street kids in Tanzania. Aaron told us about how he had a vision for this school and some of the unbelievable horrors he faced in trying to get his vision across to others (You can read about it in their book!) He went on to say that he learnt a really important lesson during his time there and that “the only thing more powerful than ownership is authorship.” He had been trying to get his students/community to take ownership over HIS vision for the school but realised change couldn’t just happen with him. They needed to write THEIR vision. How often has this happened to us or in fact, our students, where a plan or an idea or a program is put out there and we (or the students) are expected to take it and run with it and ‘own it’? This was the first of a couple of things that really resonated with me during their presentation. Another was the idea of Radical Collaborations. Getting ideas/people that ordinarily wouldn’t work together and combining them to come up with innovative and even better ideas. The final thing that really stuck with me was the question “What problem are you solving by doing this?” They made reference to 1:1 technology in schools, for example, and challenged us to ask this question when bringing in something new to our school or class.

In the second session I heard from Ron Berger, an American educator. The name was familiar to me but it wasn’t until he made reference to ‘Austin’s Butterfly’ during his presentation that I realised where I had seen him before. If you haven’t seen Austin’s Butterfly, also highly recommend! Ron’s session was called ‘Beautiful Work’. He talked about the importance of students producing beautiful work, not necessarily aesthetically beautiful, but also high quality, important work. He showed us a snippet of an ebook about snakes called ‘Slithering Snake Stories’ that a 2nd grade class had made. We watched a video on the process (months long) the students had gone through to create this beautiful piece of work and the critiques they gave each other in order to improve. It was incredible. These students were creating beautiful work for an audience beyond their classroom. They wanted the book to be freely available to students around the world so others could learn about snakes. My class are in the habit of giving each other (and me) feedback in the form of GLOWS (areas of strength) and GROWS (areas for improvement) but I certainly haven’t done it to the extent that Ron’s examples showed which I’m now looking forward to doing. Another way of saying GLOW/GROW that I heard during his session was STARS and STAIRS which I quite like too!

The third session was with Dean Shareski, a Canadian educator, whose session was called ‘What happened to the joy in schools?’ He showed us an ad for Buckley’s cough mixture where the tag line was “It tastes awful, but it works” and he likened this to how he often sees learning. Very thought provoking. He questioned how often our students really get to wonder, or play. He asked us, when you’ve done something joyful in your classroom, how often has it been fun/joyful+linked to the curriculum and how often has it just been fun/joyful. Joy does not need to be tied to anything else. “DON’T POSTPONE JOY”.

My next session was a short masterclass entitled ‘Tackling English in a busy Primary Classroom’. This was run by Lesley Englert who was the QLD representative on the ACARA board. Sadly, this was a bit of a let down (but luckily the only one throughout the whole day). It should have been called “English Stars: An online program for students from Year 4-6″as that is what the session really looked at. Follow the link if you are interested.

The next short masterclass was with Eric Mazur, a Harvard University lecturer in physics. His session was called ‘Creating the ultimate flipped classroom (and never looking back)’ which I was very interested in but like the previous class, it too had a misleading title. However, it was not bad. He started by lecturing us on thermal expansion and then gave us a question (on thermal expansion) where we had to come up with the answer, find someone in the room who had a different answer and then convince the other person that our answer was the correct one. This activity in itself was worthwhile and something I would like to do in my own class. We moved from giving an answer, to the reasoning behind it. At the end he briefly mentioned Perusall which I gather is an online platform to give students work/reading and collaborate with each other outside of the classroom. Google Apps for Education allows us to do this so I wasn’t particularly taken by it.

Kim Bevill led the next session on ‘The Magic that makes the brain learn’ which was all about how being physically fit and healthy, improves learning. It was a really fun and energetic session. She presented research supporting the links between fitness/learning and had us up and doing some sort of movement every 15 minutes or so. There were hundreds of people in the marquee and she had everyone up, dancing, singing and throwing around beach balls. It was very reaffirming as for a while now, I’ve been integrating movement breaks into my lessons and with my lovely colleague Natalie, have been developing English/Maths lessons around physical activity.

Eric Mazur led a keynote on ‘Assessment: The Silent Killer of Learning’ and this was really great. One of the interesting points he made was on problem solving. He said in real life if we have a problem, we usually know the outcome we want so the problem solving involves working on the unknown solution. For example, (and this actually happened) yesterday a problem arose at the conference where they ran out of food for lunch. The outcome of course was to get more food. The unknown solution was HOW were they going to get more food. But traditional problem solving in class usually involves working with a known solution to find an unknown outcome. For example, Rebecca saves $5 every week. After 10 weeks, how much money will Rebecca have? The solution is known and we just need to work out the outcome. Eric Mazur made the point, well if we know the solution, it’s not really a problem is it? I found this very interesting. He wasn’t having a go at ‘problem solving’. He was making the point that if you’re going to do problem solving, make it authentic and mimic real life. Another really interesting point he made was that teachers are constantly switching from coach/judge. He likened it to Dr Heckll and Mr Hyde and asked us to think of anywhere else where this would be accepted. An olympic team coach for example would not be allowed to judge the event of their team. He said that because of this conflict, teachers are putting too much focus on lower-order thinking assessments as these are the only ones that can be assessed objectively. He said we need to resolve this coach/judge conflict. Use peer/self assessment and external evaluators (like a colleague) so that we are not confining our assessments to lower-order. He finished by posing the challenge for teachers to rethink assessment. Shifting the focus “from the followers of yesterday to the leaders of tomorrow.”

The final session was with Kevin Honeycutt, an American educator. His session was called ‘Creating Meaningful Learning’. His session really echoed the thoughts of all the previous sessions so I don’t have a whole lot more to write. I really liked his question, ‘Are we global or snow global?’ Are we sharing our meaningful experiences and our expertise with the world or are we keeping it all ‘locked up’ in a snow globe? How do we break the glass?

I’ve been feeling like I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately and I haven’t even touched this blog this year because of it. But yesterday has sparked a new fire in me and it’s such a good feeling.

As Kevin Honeycutt so beautifully put yesterday,

“The best way out of the darkness is to make your own light”

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Dear future self…

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2014. I felt a little more at ease this year teaching kindergarten. My first year was tough but this time round I felt a little bit more in control and a little bit more in the know. I’d forgotten what kindergarten was like in the first week (term?…half of the year?) but it came back to me pretty quickly and I found myself enjoying it all much more.

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