Friday, February 13, 2015

Reflections on #OETC15

For two days, I wandered the halls of the Columbus Convention Center, listening to other educators talk about how they are using technology in their worlds at the Ohio Ed Tech Conference. As I picked up tidbits about programs, apps, and practices in classrooms and schools across Ohio, I heard one resounding theme emitting from the speakers.
Students can demonstrate learning in so many ways! Give them a chance! 
I made that cry in my Genius Hour presentation, but I was surprised how often I heard it from other speakers.

I sat in on an OETCx panel discussion, where the main topic of conversation was how to change school culture. Let me tell's hard.  Our default mode is to teach the way we were taught. With increasing emphasis on Common Core standards and high-stakes standardized testing, it's continually easier to drift to the lecture, lecture, lecture model.  School culture may be hard to change, but it's necessary to change it.

Teachers at Bay Village Schools decided to teach Scratch to their fourth graders, collaborating with a local university.Those students went crazy using Scratch as a learning tool. And it's more (much more!) than making a cute cat move across as screen.  Students are using code to teach about math, prepositions, and lots more.  I got to thinking that what we have here are students who are learning -- really learning -- the required standards in core classes but using a non-traditional way to demonstrate their learning. That learning is shared on Scratch and their local Scratch site, so they are creating for a larger audience than just the teacher. Awesome! (You can see their presentation here.)

Kent Schools has created a girl coders club that meets one evening a week. These eight young ladies are learning some key skills that can directly lead them to STEM jobs, and we all know about the huge gender gap in all things STEM.

My friend Jon talked about writing iBooks with his students. He recognized that his students hated to write, but when presented with the idea of publishing books online, they stepped up their writing, editing, and collaboration skills! Now 43 books, 30,000 downloads, and one global project later Jon has found a way to ignite a love of learning and writing while demonstrating that to a very large audience. When he first got into the iBook game, his principal asked him if he could come up with some standards he was hitting. Jon highlighted 75 standards they covered writing one book in two weeks. Score! (Jon's presentation can be found here.) (Commercial Break: Jon is looking for teachers to join him in #twima2. Interested? Click the link.)

The theme ran through keynotes and special sessions. I don't have time to hit all the points, but Yong Zhao said it well that schools should be a personalized educational ecosystem.  It got to the point that I sent out this tweet.
Vicki Davis packed her session with tons of great quotes, but two ideas stuck out to me.  Students should create things that are meaningful TO THEM. If a student writes for just you, it is a waste of their time and your time. The audience should be so much bigger.

I mentioned in my Genius Hour session that the average preschooler asks about 100 questions a day, and the average middle schooler has stopped asking questions? (source) Why is that? We, the educational system, have told them that sitting quietly, listening to our questions and answers, and giving that information back on a test are all more important than exploration, mentoring, and global audience.

By the end of OETC, I felt like we were all saying the same thing but coming at it from different angles - coding, books, geniuses, and other examples I didn't get to. I felt like we were a group of 3000 people all saying the same thing.

  1. Students can learn and demonstrate learning in non-traditional ways. The don't all have to be techie though.
  2. Students need to take ownership of their learning. Student choice helps bring that to the table.
  3. Their audience should be much more broad than the teacher. The World Is My Audience.

Now... How do we get our friends and colleagues on this train with us? 

Vicki Davis had an interesting saying. "Innovate like a turtle." While I would love to see my entire school using these great teaching tools and others NOW, I realized that it's more important to look to the slow innovations around me.  I have a colleague who has said, "My blackboard doesn't break on me." In other words, she had no intent of diving into ed tech because what she has always done is working well for her.  I'm happy to say that for Grandparents' Day she had her students create and show Educreations videos.  Next week her class will participate in our first Mystery Skype session.  Baby steps. Innovation like a turtle.

I love OETC.  I love seeing the great new tools that are out there. I love meeting with like-minded educators and coming home with new contacts. I also love to see it applied in my school, and I'm hoping I can bring some of this edtech love to my colleagues and see more innovation around me.

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