Me at ASCDReflecting on a busy weekend of conversation and learning at this year’s annual ASCD conference in Los Angeles, a few bright spots stand out for me. I attended ASCD two years ago in Philadelphia and I couldn’t help but notice that while conversations haven’t necessarily shifted too much (school leadership, school transformations, teaching strategies, assessment, Common Core) I found that more and more sessions addressed digital technologies, connected learning and inquiry-based learning. I also got a sense that many attendees craved interactivity within their sessions and were not too shy to engage with complete strangers within their sessions. These are the bright spots that make this year’s conference feel different than the last one I attended.

Social Media and Connected Learning

Saved by TwitterOn Saturday morning, during the “Saved by Twitter” session, I watched complete strangers huddle in groups to discuss social media, their use of Twitter, the challenges involved in using social media and I witnessed a few people send their first tweet or use a hashtag for the first time. This is a huge shift from two years ago when there were very few people tweeting at the conference and Twitter wasn’t widely considered a tool for schools and teachers (and students). Now, it seems, many educators and school leaders realize that they have no choice but to get on board with social media, and they are exploring the tool. Some of the session attendees pondered questions such as, “Should I have two accounts, one personal and one for school?” or, especially if they’d been on Twitter for a few months, “What do I have to add to the conversation? I haven’t really had anything profound to share.” Mixed in were questions about chats, various symbols they saw, what it means to follow someone, what it means to “retweet” someone and others. I’m not sure how many people from that session continued to tweet over the course of the conference, but the eagerness to learn was palpable.
In addition, there were more sessions this year focused around topics like integrating technology, digital citizenship, mobile learners, technology and critical thinking and others. As a frequent attendee of the annual ISTE conference, and a Technology teacher, I found the conference in Philadelphia lacking many sessions dedicated to technology in the classroom. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend one of the technology sessions this year due to schedule conflicts, but just the amount of sessions discussing technology in the classroom gave me hope.

Student-Centered, Project Based Learning

Another bright spot was the increased number of sessions referring to project or problem-based learning. More and more conversations that I heard while sitting on a couch in the networking lounge or walking between sessions seemed more focused on student-centered learning and while many still touted the Common Core, and while I could not visit every session to see if what was being discussed was truly PBL, this shift gives me hope that more schools are moving toward student-centered classrooms.
I was lucky enough to have a brief conversation in the press room with some of the staff from Washington Montessori School, this year’s winner of the Vision in Action Award. The staff described the culture shift for staff, students and families when the school, which had been labeled as a “Priority School” with only 50% of its students reading at grade level, transitioned into a magnet Montessori school. They described the independence they foster in their Pre-K through 5th grade students, 78% of whom qualify for free/reduced lunch. The work they have done to develop a truly inquiry-based environment is inspiring. The fact that this kind of work is being done to turn schools around rather than some of the models I currently see in Philadelphia gives me hope.
I also spoke with a teacher who works in an urban district outside of Chicago who described the positive changes her school has gone through, the focus they have been putting on supporting kids and families, the vision and dedication that new leadership has brought to the school and the way that staff have stepped up to get the necessary hard work done to turn the school around.
These are the stories that we need to hear, and the fact that people are telling these stories and that ASCD was able to shine a light on the transformation of Washington Montessori also gives me hope.

Go Ahead, Talk to Each Other

Edcamp at ASCDThe final bright spot that really stood out for me this year was the increased amount of engagement between session attendees in sessions. It always pains me that almost all large conferences that I have attended (not just ASCD) set the rooms up like a classroom from the 19th Century with a sea of chairs all hooked together and facing front. I had a conversation with some Emerging Leader colleagues where we reflected on the fact that the best practices that we tout for children we rarely provide for teachers. I attended the Edcamp session and watched as attendees unhooked chairs and created discussion circles and then proceeded to generate discussion topics and hold discussions around topics of their choice. After the attendees regrouped, I could hear people telling their colleagues about the discussion they had just had. There was an energy in the room. It was awesome.
I also sat in on the “What Keeps You Up At Night” panel, and while about half of the time was spent like a traditional panel with a moderator, the attendees were given cards on which to write a question for the panel and the second half of the session was focused on the questions of the people in the room. This gave the session attendees a chance to interact both with the panel and with each other.
ASCD also had a new space this year called the #ASCDEdSpace. This was a space for informal conversation around topics chosen by attendees. This shows a huge shift in how large organizations like ASCD think about engaging their attendees and I think it is a step in the right direction. While this year’s space may not have been totally successful, I believe that were the space moved to the networking lounge rather than a back hallway, there would be a large number of people engaged in conversation about sessions, the keynote speakers and their own experiences. Myself and two other emerging leaders, Bethany Bernasconi and Dawn Chan decided to move our #ASCDEdSpace session to the networking lounge. We plopped ourselves down with complete strangers and struck up a conversation. No one balked at talking to a stranger, and the space was perfect for debriefing the day. If we had not moved to the lounge, I would not have met Tiffany, the teacher from the urban district outside of Chicago that I mentioned above.
I also overheard conversations at social events and while traversing the conference center that hinted at a desire for more interactivity in sessions. “I hate when they just stand up there and talk at you,” I overheard one attendee say. These experiences give me hope that professional development for teachers can begin to mirror the best practices that we use to design meaningful learning experiences for our students.
I’m sure that we will see the landscape shift even more as schools begin to move away from focusing on The Test as the sole assessment, as more and more schools adopt digital learning tools and as more and more school leaders realize the potential of their staff to learn together and from each other.
Despite what many would say about “education these days,” the bright spots I saw this weekend make me believe that that there is hope and that it will take all of us making big strides forward to enact the changes that will make schools more student-centered and focused on the learning process, not just the outcome.
 

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I am always proud to be a Philadelphia educator as the annual Educonconference approaches. It’s a magical time of year when educators from across the US gather to explore deep pedagogical questions, network, laugh and enjoy some of the best restaurants on the East Coast (no bias!)

What makes Educon so special?

Size
Educon, unlike state conferences or conferences put on by large organizations, is small and intimate. With only a couple hundred attendees, it easy to strike up, join or listen in on conversations and since it is held at the Science Leadership Academy, a school, there are no large auditoriums or huge, informal session halls.

The Conversations

Educon is centered around conversations instead of presentations. Every session that makes the cut is carefully chosen for its plan for engaging the participants. In addition, the conference is always centered around these guiding principles:

1)Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
2)Our schools must be about co-creating – together with our students – the 21st Century Citizen
3)Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
4)Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
5)Learning can – and must – be networked

The Participants
Educon attracts a who’s who of engaged, innovative and outspoken members of the edtech community. Participants travel from all over the country to engage in pedagogical exploration and to share challenges, innovative projects and to learn through conversation. People come to Educon to engage and learn, not to rack up credits or satisfy district requirements. Many travel on their own dime because they find the experience that important to their professional practice.

If you have been considering attending Educon, I highly suggest you register before it fills up. You won’t regret it.

 

Next week, myself and hundreds of other educators from around the country will be congregating at the 92nd St Y in New York City to share stories of how they have used social media to grow personally and professionally and how they have used it to empower young people both in and out of the classroom.

The lineup of speakers is an exciting list of movers and shakers and inspiring people. I am honored to be part of such a lineup and I look forward to learning from everyone. (you can check out the schedule and the list of speakers here).

I will be holding a conversation with my colleagues, Hadley Ferguson and Mike Ritzius on Tuesday, July 31st at 2:00pm about the New Species of Educator:

As much as the dialogue has been opened about the importance and power of being a connected educator, most are still not. This has given rise to two factions of educators, and birthed a new ‘species’ of educator–one that is globally connected, one that is abreast of trends, research and policy ahead of the rest of their field. We want to tell our story and make a call to action for a new species of educator.

I am also looking forward to hearing about Classroom Champions from Steve  and Leigh Mesler, about “Building Bolder Schools” from Steve Dembo, about EdTech Link from Shelly Blake-Plock.

The event will be live streamed (you can find the live stream that day on the website), or, if you are an educator, you can attend for only $1.40). I hope to see you there!

 

I recently attended the annual ISTE conference in San Diego to participate on a panel about new teacher mentoring using technology moderated by my colleague, Lisa Dabbs. As I considered my responses to some of the panelist questions, I remembered a conversation I had at the Sunday night networking event for the conference with a new teacher who gushed about her experience at an edcamp. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the event and talking with so many people I can’t seem to pull the name of the edcamp from my memory. She spoke about the amazing conversations and dialogue that she experienced. As I reflected on the conversation, I thought about how powerful an edcamp can be for a new teacher. When I think back to my first few years of teaching, I remember feeling nervous about asking questions, about appearing like I didn’t know what I was doing, about understanding exactly what it was I supposed to be teaching and how best to do it. I never had a new teacher coach, I’ve never had a mentor. If I could have attended an event like an edcamp and listened to veteran teachers ask questions, discuss pedagogy and openly admit that they are struggling, I think that my first few years would have been a lot easier. On top of these conversations, I would have been able to build a network that could have served as my mentor or my coach when I didn’t have one.

Photo courtesy of speaker4td on Flickr

There have been a few New Teacher Camps  specifically for new teachers. However, I’m not sure it’s completely necessary for events to be specifically created just for new teachers. If  each of us who have experienced edcamp to recruit at least one new teacher to bring with us to the next edcamp we attend, we can bring the edcamp experience to new teachers. The more new teachers who can be exposed to professional conversations, learn how to ask questions and share ideas with their peers and build a positive network for personal growth, the more new teachers that will feel successful and the more new teachers who will stay in the career they have chosen and be the best they can be for their students.

Make your mission for your next edcamp to “bring a new teacher to edcamp!”

 

It feels like forever since I have been to an edcamp, though I have virtually attended a few through following hashtags and the opportunity to Skype into edcampMKE with some of my colleagues.

I have been more and more energized by conversations around teacher leadership, meaningful professional development. The edcamp movement has been growing, with our 100th event being held on Saturday, May 12th in Milwaukee and a successful event in Dubai on the same date.

I am looking forward to seeing old faces and new faces and to conversations with dedicated, smart and passionate educators from the Philadelphia area.

To edcamp and beyond!

 
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photo courtesy of Joyce Valenza on Flickr

When I picked up the book Curriculum 21 a couple of years ago it was very refreshing to hear what I considered at that time a voice of reason in education. I was particularly struck by Jacob’s metaphor of upgrading the system completely rather than tweaking it. I also found the website full of great resources.

I was very excited to find out that Heidi would be at the press luncheon at the ASCD conference this past weekend.

As I sat down at the table, I found that Heidi was sitting right next to me. She turned to me and asked my name and who I was representing. I told her about my blog and what I write about and a little about what I do. She asked the same of my colleagues sitting at the table. What ensued was a passionate, fast-moving and inspiring conversation about schools, innovation, connected educators and the future of the textbook.

First, I have to say that Heidi blew me away with her friendly, relaxed and passionate personality.

The conversation started with Heidi describing the three literacies that all students should have: digital, media and global. She talked about her work with Silvia Tolisano in creating globally connected classrooms. It was inspiring to hear her describe her Global Forum session in which the attendees were able to visit various countries to engage with learners.  She is a strong believer that all educators should be globally connected. It was definitely preaching to the choir. I explained how nearly all of us at the table had known each other on Twitter before ever meeting online. As connected educators, we definitely have a leg up on our colleagues.

Another reoccurring theme throughout the conversation was the new kind of teacher that is required for the new kind of learners that populate our classrooms. This led to a discussion about teachers as learners and differentiated professional development for teachers. This is obviously something that Heidi is passionate about. As she expressed the importance of self-selected PD, I was excited to hear that Heidi is familiar with the edcamp model. She emphasized that forcing everyone to receive the same information in the same way for a PD day is nonsense.

One part of the conversation that really interested me was her new Livebook.

As many of you may know, I was recently part of an inspiring Beyond the Textbook forum hosted by Discovery Education. I took part in a day of brainstorming and pontificating on what a textbook should look like, what it should contain and whether or not we even need textbooks anymore. From what I have seen (from screenshots and detailed descriptions), Heidi’s Livebook is still a book, but it’s like a book on steroids. It includes avenues for social reading, collaboration, note-taking and content that is easily updated by the author. I have not had a chance to request an advanced preview, but I definitely interested to see the interface. While I am still not 100% sure that a new kind of textbook is what educators really need, Heidi’s work on this project is an important piece in a larger puzzle.

Hearing Heidi speak about the work that she does with teachers was equally inspiring. She described scheduling a Google Plus hangout or webinar with the leaders of the staff she would be working with. This shows her commitment to getting to know the communities with which she works before stepping in to help. She also talked passionately about differentiating professional development for teachers and distributing leadership so that school leadership is a collaborative effort. She also helps school leaders eliminate meetings and turn to virtual platforms for both asynchronous and synchronous collaboration to save time and use time efficiently.

I was also struck by her statement that we should never be trying to sell anything in education. This reminded me of the term ‘buy-in’ that so many of my peers (and myself!) use on a regular basis. We need a shared vision, a compromise of sorts. Something that requires answering hard questions. I wonder how many schools are actually having those hard questions.

I was glad to have had a chance to connect with Heidi, whose work I have admired since I first read Curriculum 21. It was an inspiring conversation and I look forward to following her Livebook project.

 

 

As a member of the press here at ASCD’s annual conference, I was lucky enough to sit and talk with Liliana Aquas and Matt McClure, the Outstanding Young Educators over lunch. It was an inspiring dialogue.

Liliana, who works at Leconte Elementary School in Berkeley, CA, did not start out wanting to be an educator. She was in school to be a scientist, but after visiting a school and teaching kids, she was asked by the principal to come back and teach 5th grade at the school.

In other words, Liliana is smart and highly educated. Just listening to her talk, you could hear her passion and enthusiasm for science and for watching her kids discover and uncover content. She was worried, at first, that she couldn’t be a successful teacher because she didn’t attend a teachers’ college, but the principal who hired her saw something in her and told her that she would be fine. And she was.

I, myself, did not attend a teachers’ college, and took education courses while working full time in the classroom. Over the course of my career I have met many educators who had similar paths. Which makes me reconsider the role of teachers’ colleges in the first place.

What was really refreshing for me was to hear her say that “Science is the ideal platform to teach everything.” This is something that I have been saying for years. I believe that schools can make Science the glue that ties all learning together.

Listening to Matt McClune, a Superintendent from Cross County Schools, AR was equally inspiring. He described the journey his district made toward what he calls “process based learning” from a more traditional model.

His district went from being an ‘at-risk’ district to slowly proving themselves toward more independence. He sat down with his teachers to talk about what kinds of skills they thought their students would need outside of the NCLB content. After the brainstorming, the group reflected on how they weren’t teaching these things in their classrooms.

The district set up an exploratory committee made up of all stakeholders visiting schools, looking at whole child & current practices in classrooms. They decided to move toward project/problem/process based learning to meet the needs of the whole child. Learning is spiraled around a problem and collaborative work.
Kids, he says, are responding extremely well to the shift. Older kids are having more trouble adjusting than younger kids because they are used to playing the game, but they have embraced the new model as well. Part of the shift also included educating the community on how jobs that exist now might not exist for their kids.
Matt described a classroom in his school with two teachers in a room and up to 60 kids in the classroom. He talked about how they knocked down walls and put in glass storefronts that faced the hallways. At first kids goggled, but now it’s part of life. He compared it to the way a corporate office is structured.
I was struck with how easy Matt made the journey seem, though I know that it wasn’t. It’s important to remember, as my friend Eric Sheninger was quoted as saying in his session this morning, that change doesn’t need to happen as slowly as people say it does.
Great job, ASCD for picking some really inspiring and deserving educators!
 

As I reflect on my day at ASCD’s conference, I will be thinking and reflecting on a lot of topics and discussions. The one that really struck me, however, I feel I must reflect on first.

My last session of the day was one that I was really looking forward to. I am not one to easily be drawn in by big names, but I felt that with so many of them here, that I needed to attend at least one session and have my starstruck moment at the conference. At the end of the day, Carol Ann Tomlinson, the queen of differentiated instruction, presented on the connections between brain research and differentiated instruction.

I have done some reading on using neuroscience to inform the way we teach (Brain Rules, The Architecture of Learning), so this session really interested me. While some argue that we don’t have enough information about the brain to truly correlate neuroscience and learning, I think that we are silly to not pay attention to the way the brain fires during learning experiences. As Tomlinson stated during her presentation, everything that teachers do in the classroom sets off chemical reactions in the brain. If teachers have a better understanding of these chemical reactions, then we do a better job and building experiences around how the brain actually works.

First of all, Tomlinson’s session was structured in a way that allowed participants in the huge ballroom to talk and interact with each other about the session content. We had discussion ‘buddies’ that we had to identify before the session really began and we were given time after each section of the presentation to talk to our ‘buddies’ about what had been shared. This was a really powerful part of the presentation for me, as I am not a fan of ‘sit and get’ presentations, no matter how talented or famous someone is.

As far as the content of the presentation, it’s hard to know where to start. It was an incredible amount of information and ideas to digest.

One quote that really set the tone for the hour was Tomlinson’s view on differentiation itself. She said, “Differentiation is the logic of the classroom.” For all of the hype around differentiation (for better or for worse) I wonder how many people actually know what it means. It has become one of those buzz words that everyone uses, but few ever reflect on. Part of that may be because it really is a logical aspect of any reflective teacher’s practice. No successful and talented teacher can ignore the practice of differentiation in their classroom because it’s just what needs to be done.

I was also struck by the idea that students should think about class as much after they leave as they do in anticipation. My reflections here are an example of that. I was very excited to attend the session, and I left still thinking about what I heard.

While not all of the content of the session was mind blowing due to my own reading on the topic, (i.e., I already knew about the hierarchy of needs–survival comes first for the brain), Tomlinson was able to frame the research and the theory in an easy to digest, yet thought-provoking way.

I was struck by her statement that having clarity in our learning goals for students is not just for the learner, but also for the teacher. We can be as transparent as we want with kids, but if the learning goals are not transparent for us as teachers, then we won’t know what we are looking for and we cannot properly assess and educate our students.

She shared findings that the smaller amount of content that we ask kids to learn, the better, and that we need to teach big ideas because the brain needs patterns to link content. Some people call these ‘hooks’ that the brain ‘hangs’ information on. The hooks need to connect or retention does not occur.

She also referred to the teacher as a coach, similar to a football coach. The coach/teacher allows his or her students to practice, refining skills with guidance from the coach, in preparation for the big game. The better the practices, the better the players will do in the game. She argued that we need to make sure that we design the best practices for kids and that these practices use formative assessment and are not graded. Part of the grading process that hinders learning is the release of cortisol when the brain feels stressed.

I found it interesting that in the hierarchy of the brain, the main focus of the brain after survival is emotional data. According to Tomlinson, this explains why students in caring classrooms perform better than students in classrooms that tend to have high levels of emotional stress. She shared a chart that showed that there is a middle ground for the amount of challenge and stress we impose on learners and how it affects their learning.

Another interesting aspect of brain research she shared was the link between rote learning and convergent responses versus open ended, more problem-based learning that evokes divergent responses (just guess which one is occurring more often in schools). She stated that “we are legislating brain atrophy” by continuing to deny children the opportunity to engage in activities that promote divergent thinking. This kind of thinking, she argued is what is needed in the job market of the future.

For more of my notes on the presentation, you can click here.

Hopefully I will be able to reflect on my other parts of the day soon!

For more reading on the topic:

Judy Willis, Brain Friendly Strategies

David Sousa How the Brain Learns

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Coming soon: lunch with the Outstanding Young Educators and Edcamp as professional development

 

My first day at ASCD’s annual conference was excellent. I am still sifting through the day in my Evernote notebook. I have, however, looked forward to tomorrow’s sessions a bit and here are the ones that have grabbed my eye:

Session 2162 — Overcoming Deficit Thinking: Strategies for Working with Low Income Students 8:30-9:00am

Session 2245 — Leading the Way Toward Effective Project-Based Learning 1:00-2:30pm

Session 2323 — Connecting Teacher Evaluation to Student Achievement in Nontested Grades 3:00-4:30pm

I have a lot to reflect on from today (which I can hopefully do tonight). This is my first ASCD conference, and so far I am really enjoying the conversation as well as the star treatment that ASCD has given us as press. I had breakfast and engaging conversation with colleagues followed by a wonderful conversation with the inspiring Outstanding Young Educators as I ate lunch provided by ASCD.

I hope to be able to reflect and deconstruct the day before the next day starts!

 

I am very excited to be attending ASCD’ s annual conference here in Philadelphia. I will be blogging about sessions and conversations I attend. Here are some sessions for today that caught my eye:

  • A lunch with ASCD’s Outstanding Educators
  • Session 1270 – EdCamp-Style Professional Development Engages and Empowers Teachers, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.  (a little bias here since the presenters are my colleagues from Edcamp Philly and the Edcamp Foundation)
  • Session 1214 — Having Hard Conversations 1:00-2:30pm
  • Session 1272 — The Power of Reflective Inquiry as Professional Development 1:30-2:30pm
  • Session 1302 — Differentiation and the Brain: What Neuroscience Suggests about a Learner-Friendly Classroom 3:00-4:30pm
  • Session 1318 — If We Build It, They Will Come: Strategic Curriculum Planning for Student Achievement 3:00-4:30pm
  • Session 1331 — Changing the Culture of Grading 3:00-4:30
  • Edutopia/ASCD Tweetup at the Field House 7:00-9:00pm

I know I can’t attend them all, but they all look interesting!

I’m very impressed so far with the offerings, especially in the technology realm. Kudos to ASCD!

 

 

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