I recently attended a technology conference in the Chicago area. Although our school is trying desperately to achieve "one-to-one" status, we are still in the dark ages...or I soon found out about 10 minutes into this conference. I, along with three colleagues, are spearheading the use of Chromebooks in our classroom this year. It is nowhere near one-to-one, but it's not a bad start. With this being said, I felt like my first real "blog" should be about my experience at said conference in hopes that you, the reader, may help me find guidance.
The conference was held at Leyden High School, a diverse network of students, teachers, administration, tech junkies, and the like. Our first speaker was Jaime Casap, a charismatic man, also deemed as a "Google Global Education Evangelist". Casap began his speech with a small introduction of his life thus far. Casap, kid from Hell's Kitchen, NY, knew firsthand the importance of education and poverty. "Education disrupts poverty", Casap explained as he memorized his audience with stories of the future and student skills. "Technology is not new if you were born into it," Casap explained as he pushed us further away from our fears of establishing and implementing these new and exciting lessons. Finally, Casap explained, our goal as educators is to create a generation of problem-solvers. "We want digital leaders, not consumers." A powerful call to change by a very charismatic man.
I spent the rest of day I listening to two Leyden teachers explain how they have successfully implemented one-to-one technology in their classrooms. There was talk about Google's 20% time, a revolutionary way to look at the workforce. According to Google, if you want to truly advance your company, you must provide your workers with time to play. Google employees are required to work 80% of their work week, the other 20% is deemed "play time"...when workers may focus on things that excite or interest them, provided that it helps Google improve in some way. One teacher, Katie Diebold, spoke at length about how she has also incorporated 20% into her classroom. Does it work? Katie Diebold seems to think it does. And if you ask Google they will tell you that GMail, Google News, Google Talk, and Adsense were all created during that 20% time. Could it work in my classroom? Perhaps...but I am still working the logistics out for that one.
The second day of our conference began with the founding Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA, Chris Lehmann. Chris was a very different speaker than our charismatic Jaime Casap. Although these two men were different in pose, Chris sold himself on his ability to speak to the teachers in the audience. "Children are becoming too schoolie," Lehmann explained. He described the frustration he feels watching students become what the teacher expects them to be, losing themselves along the way. Lehmann's presentation stuck with me well after I left. He asked many of us if we ever followed a high school student around for a day. "It is only the energy of youth that gets students through education," Lehmann explained. School, for most students, is not engaging. We need to get it right before it's too late. Lehmann ended with a powerful quote by John Cheese: "If you want creative workers, give them time to play".
The rest of my second day was filled with amazing classes, first by librarian Susan Peterson. Peterson began her career as a secondary History teacher and recently moved into the position of school librarian. Peterson spent a majority of her time speaking to the importance of authentic Internet research using such apps as Mashpedia. She also spoke at length about the importance of Readability, Evernote, Livebinders, Boolify, along with citation tools such as Easybib. Peterson's class gave me hope for my students as we begin "real" research in the eighth grade classroom.
Each of the classes I attended was wonderful....until I happened upon a class led by Autumn Laidler and Jennie Magiera. Laidler is an elementary teacher in a Chicago Public School, while Jennie Magiera is a Digital Learning Coordinator, also in CPS. Let me just start by saying, I use to think I was pretty cool...until I met these two women. They were funny, motivational, dedicated, and innovative. Laidler and Magiera spoke about the importance of social media in schools. Many teachers cringe at the words, "social media", but I was very interested to hear what they had to say. They spoke about the importance of the backchannel, Todaysmeet, Schoology, Kidsblog, and skypeinschools.pbworks.com. These two women changed the way I look at my classroom. I encourage everyone to Google them, listen to their ideas, and get inspired.
The conference wrapped up with a third day of technological learning, and although I adored Casap and his motivation, and loved Lehmann's approach, I will tell you that this conference saved the BEST for last. George Couros, Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for #PSD70 located in Canada, blew my mind. Who would have thought that an educator from Canada could systematically change the way a large portion of 300 teachers felt about education?! Couros examined the difference between using one-to-one effectively, and using the device as just another "pencil". "That is a $1,000 pencil and waste of time" if you use it just as you did before you got the technology. One-on-one teaching must be meaningful, unique, and inspirational. We, as teachers, may be exhausted and scared, but we cannot let this opportunity pass us by. We must do more with this opportunity. One-on-one should be "transformative". We must do something in the classroom we could NOT do before the technology. Couros left us with an amazing video about a young boy at the top of a large, steep hill. The boy is preparing to ski down the hills and you can hear him talking to himself. He is scared, no doubt, but when he finally makes the leap, it changes everything. That is what education is all about.
I left this three day conference feeling different. I felt different about myself, my education, the education of my students, and my relationship with the colleagues. This conference and presenters challenged me to be better….and I will, I promise.