The 2nd annual CU4Tech Conference had a little bit of a rocky start as Krista Moroder attemped to facetime conference from Philly (tech problems on our end? Irony? *grin*). I think she did a great job of setting the tone for the conference, speaking to how technology is a but a tool meant to make the challenging task of teaching more efficient and more effective. Despite my own current revulsion at the mention of “efficient”, I begin to see how the whole point of a tool is to make something easier. My understanding of “Educational Technology” continues to evolve, and I begin to see that the infusion of current technology into pedagogy, curriculum and education is more about the way we do education in the first place that warrants the use of these kinds of tools. I mean, the pencil is a piece of old technology, but still a tool none the less.
The rest of the day was jammed packed with a lot of wise words, challenging insights, educational jargon up the wazoo (I didn’t go to Ed school), opportunities for networking, forming relationships and exploring the role of technology in one of the most empowering facilities of our society – educating learners. And a fair share of ongoing technical problems. 🙂 Mrs. Elizabeth Slifer (Carrie Busey) had an entire PBS presentation that just would not load up, so they adapted in real-time. Other presenters had slow videos or webpages to demo. Instead of pointing my finger and trying to complain, rather I use these as examples of imperfect tools and how people find dynamic, creative alternatives. We not only learn about the underlying tools and nitty-gritty details when we can (I just ask Dave Hohman), but we also learn to adapt. This is powerful. As we laughed about the technical difficulties later in the day, our lives are full of teachable moments and learning from mistakes – without which we do not grow.
Here are the sessions I attended, about 1/8th the total offering.
Google Apps in the Classroom (Erin Ludwick, Urbana High School)
classroom.google.com just came out, which combines many of the previous Google Apps into a single portal for creating an online resource (aka, virtual classroom). Ms. Ludwick shared about the many ways Urbana #116 has used Docs, Drive, Voice, Chat and Hangouts to form connections between teachers, students and families. Take-away: if a teacher/student/parent is so inclined, there are many ways to make oneself available as a resource or to connect with a resource.
Technology and the Danielson Framework (Matt Sly, Unit 4 Technology Coach)
I have a long way to go before I comprehend the four domains of the Danielson Framework, but of the things that Matt shared, I was most inspired by the emphasis on connecting with families (this will be a theme in this post). Again, I was encouraged by the emphasis on the fact that technology is a tool; real change does not happen because someone waves a magic wand, but rather when a person sets their heart on an unwavering path of impact. The tool merely amplifies and hopefully makes that task easier. One major take-away was that the goal of technology is never directly to encourage things like “student engagement”. Rather, the tools have a very specific funtion (ie, make grading tests easier, allow online collaboration, etc) that indirectly encourage engagement.
Intentional Technology Integration & Curriculum Design (Katrina Kennett, College of Education)
Ms. Kennett obviously has a passion to share her observations and experience in a such a way as to enable students to, in a sense, take control of their learning. One thing that strucky me deeply, which we talked about later, was the symbolism she used in her slides was the shape of a house, to mark one’s path of learning along several components like “final product”, “audience”, “student inquiry” and “metacognition”. To me, this is a powerful connection to the crucial aspect of building relationships, and how in an ideal world, a fundametal and focal relationship is that of the family in which the parents are in a position of deep-seated trust that fosters truly constructive criticism born out of love for each other. In a Utopian world, in my opinion, a typical teacher-student relationship would share some of those same elements, using the processes identified in this session to enhance or “teach” each other.
Low-Tech to High-Tech Discussions: Fostering Student Inquiry through EdCafes (Katrina Kennett, College of Education)
Having sat through part of one session, I wanted to see what the next session was like. And I am very glad I did. Katrina laid the groundwork for her idea and how successful it has been for her, and then we immediately applied the concepts by practicing them in our small group setting. The seed question was “What does ‘student talk’ look like?” The fruit of our discussion was very productive and inspiring, ranging over many related but tangential topics. It seems obvious to me that this tool is very conducive to students owning their learning experience. I liked the concept so much that I hope we see more of this in Unit 4. Moreover, it made me reflect on how Unit 4 is going about the “talks” for the Central siting saga, and how even though we have decades of talks, it has not been choreographed very well – we have lacked a talented facilitator/moderator throughout. And Katrina has that rare form of high-energy that allows her to listen intently, take notes and type them for all to see as the discussion is happening, and then respond in a thoughtful and thought-provoking manner that guides the dialog.
Coding Art (Jill Kjorliene and Todd Lash, Kenwood Elementary)
To be honest, I did not intend to drop by this session (having talked to Todd Lash on numerous occasions and tried my hand at Scratch), but when I saw a bunch of kids march down the hall, I just had to follow to see what was up. For me, this session was so much more than using a cute program to make dynamic and configurable patterns; rather, it strives to change the model and definition of teaching. The icing on the cake was that Dr. Wiegand, Dr. Zola, Stephanie Stuart and Dave Hohman walked in right as Todd Lash was saying that they were working from the ground up to instill changes, not being forced by administration. 🙂 Some game-changing ideas were discussed and I insist that you go look up his presentation on Schoology (directions for logging in are buried here – I’ll try to post the presentation when I have a moment). Take-away: a new breed of teachers are coming our way, and the current vehicle of “coding” (and “computational thinking”) is just one delivery mechanism.
What are we really teaching through technology (Cathy Murphy and Minsoo Park, Kenwood Elementary)
This was a perfect companion course to “Coding Art” – it is a shame that both were offered at the same time (I attended half of each) and moreover that so very few folks attended. Ms. Murphy has embraced the idea of student-led learning and for me personally, I love how this is implemented. Hers was one the classes I visited in the middle of April, and today she reiterated that she sees her role as a facilitator and to allow the student to express their own passion through creative problem solving. She also shared how this approach makes differentiation much easier. Granted, this is not a silver bullet by any means – some teachers and some students (and most likely, some parents) really do not care for this approach. And that’s totally ok. To apply the prevailing thought recursively (onto itself), “there is more than one path to the solution.”
Blogging for Communication and Celebration (Sarah Filkins, Robeson Elementary)
In some ways, I felt an obligation to attend this session, if nothing else than to see what it was all about. To be honest, I was hoping for a little more open discussion about how teachers can and do use blogs and other social media to connect with modern students and families. The bulk of my time in this session was spent in a very practical manner – providing a guided opportunity to create one’s first blog and one’s first post using Blogger, given the District’s investment in Google Apps. Take-away: more and more teachers are starting to use these outlet portals because they are becoming easier to use, yet the initial learning/adaptation curve is still a significant roadblock for others. Again, this is but a tool, and some teachers already have other tools.
Personal Learning Networks (Heidi Bjerke, Educational Technology Coach)
I had heard the term “personal learning networks” several times throughout the course of the day, so I decided to attend this last session as a way to expose myself. It is not unlike what I do professionally, especially in the context of technical conferences; network with others who do a similar job, ask questions of each other, help each other out and in general, create a targetted, thematic support group. The sheer amount of resources and weblinks shared at the end of this session totally overwhelmed me. 🙂
Overall, I was very impressed by CU4TechCon. I love that people are travelling over four hours just to present their ideas. I love that we draw from Chicago schools, alongside Mahomet and Urbana. I love that there are grassroots efforts to knead the flour of change into the dough of the system we call education. I love the passion of these people, and the synergy that is catalyzed when you get them all fired up on teaching kids.
I wish more district administration and board members attended, and those that did attend stayed longer. Hopefully they will hear about it from their peers. The reason I say this is that my major take-away is that the art and science of teaching is changing, and I hope we begin to embrace those changes district-wide sooner rather than later. To wit, change is always coming. 🙂