I have traveled over 20,000 miles, spent more money than I care to share & missed part of my families narrative- all in the quest of being professionally developed. On Tuesday, June 28 at 11:59 CST, I am undergoing a hard unplug. Droid X battery pull. iPod shutdown. MacBook Pro shall shutdown for the first time since purchase in August 2010 (as will the MacBook Air). Email chains shall bounce to my colleagues. No tweets. No 4Square. And thankfully no Facebook. Wish Me Luck.
I want to rewind to June of 2010. I had five conferences planned for the summer. My colleague and thought partner took a job at a new district, so I to engaged on the journey as a solo act. Why attend conferences? If you’re reading this post, you probably know that I am on a team bringing a new school into existence. The school has been a two and a half year design. The team includes dozens of people. From day one, I positioned myself as a teacher in the school. And here’s where the conferences come in…we are doing innovative stuff at our school. There wasn’t a playbook available for providing training necessary to get a learning environment launched that fuses student-directed Project Based Learning with service learning. There wasn’t a network available that provided intensive virtual support for rolling out a 1:1 initiative for free. There wasn’t a university that provided workshops for teacher led schools. There weren’t consultants available that charged less than $150 per hour. So I’ll take the blame for the conferences…detailed stats for the conference evaluations are here. In October 2010 I took off on a journey and wrote extensively about it.
For some reason, I used the tag #30daysofgettingcoachedup – a 25 character tag that made messages virtually unretweetable. I am at the end of my travels. I type this on my plane ride back home. I hope this is my last school-related plane trip for the next 24 months. To quote Doug Thomas, it’s time to “stay local and think global,” and I’m ready. I have been professionally developed. Each of the last ten days have been an epiphany. I’d like to share them with you. Last week, I attended my favorite conference of the year, #GLS7. GLS stands for Games-Learning-Society. They are a group of radicals at Madison doing great things. Namely, they research. They talk about their research. They share their research freely. These academics are way out there and yet they’re grounded. I had a few takeaways from the conference. @ConstanceS shared out her research that I heard about last year. Paraphrased, the research goes something like this, teenage males who struggle with reading increase their reading level by 4.7 grades when able to choose literature that interest them. Constance Steinkueler’s research points to two critical pieces for me: school culture & situated learning. The ‘participants’ increased their reading level and when reading literature on World of Warcraft(c) (the complete study can be found here, just give an email and it’ll download in a few seconds). This study impacts my practice as a teacher because it points to how necessary it is to allow students to create an educational environment that’s engaging and foster’s adolescent’s passions. The situated learning piece mentioned earlier is completely true. Young adults will work at something for much longer and rely on context to assist them if they are deeply interested in the subject matter. When put in a situation they want to know more about, people do. People do work. People tinker. People troubleshoot. People work together. I’ll speak for myself, when I’m not deeply interested in a subject, I jump through whatever hoops I need to so that I can get done fast and move on to other things that I am passionate about. The other big take away for me was the school culture piece. Student choice and student voice leading to increases in student achievement are clear in Constance Steinkuehler’s study. Her group had disengaged learners driving in from over 2-hours away to take part in her study. And that tells me those kids weren’t a part of a study, they were a part of a club. I just hope I listen to the students and create clubs/groups that are driven by student interest and not mine.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the conference for me was the ARIS Games workshop (#arisgames). I first heard about ARIS at the Wisconsin Charter School Association Annual Conference in 2009. ARIS allows for people to create games. It’s super easy to author a game. Here’s what’s even cooler: the games are played on iPods and other mobile devices. ARIS is completely open source; meaning, it is free, both in cost and usage. This workshop was precisely what I was looking for. It was done in a learning by doing fashion. The same MacBook Pro I’m using to write this entry out at 35,000 feet was used to author a game. Jim Mathews, Jon Martin, and David Gagnon led the workshop. In 40 minutes time, they led a dozen people into what I consider a frightning realm- failure. The facilitators unveiled their product to a group of noobs (new folks not familiar to the specific technology). The game we were supposed to create was titled ‘thirst’. I haven’t worked with code. But I have completed high school algebra, and I have been creating games since I was three (haven’t all of us?). The game mechanics aren’t important. What is important is that I now feel equipped to do something I haven’t had the courage to do since 2009. ARIS has been available since I started my cross-country ProfDev tour in June of 2010. But for some reason, I didn’t interact with it. The game editor required me to create a login. I don’t know code. I don’t know how to make a game. Their game jams fell on evenings I coached track and basketball, and on and on the rationalizations continue. It wasn’t until ARIS was unpacked by instructors that I felt comfortable. It was just different enough from anything I’ve ever done to prohibit me from exploring it. Just a week later, colleagues of mine (@MrKlitzke & @MisterYunk) are talking about having a Beta Game Jam. I think a half dozen of us are going to get together and play-test this thing in a few weeks before we roll it out to our students. Other highlights of #gls7 were the Educators Symposium. For $30, a full-day workshop was put on for folks in K-12. I participated in the Creative Commons, fair use session. It was outstanding! I left with several resources that I can reference for students creating projects. Student authorship is such a large part of our school and I’m glad GLS provided this area. The total cost of the conference was under $300. I left Madison with a lot more than I brought. What intrigues me about what’s going on at GLS is the auctualization of lifelong learning. ‘Change Agent’ & ‘Lifelong Learning’ are phrases commonly thrown around at many graduate programs and by folks leading district level ProfDev. The GLS folks push out lifelong learning by welcoming people from all ages, areas, and walks of life. Although the majority of the attendees are from higher ed, there was a large minority of people from K12. I didn’t feel a sharp separation between the K12 and higher ed people. The conference was outstanding and I’m bringing back a ton of resources to my school.
The story within the story unfolding during GLS was the State Supreme Court issued a 4-3 ruling that eradicates collective bargaining by public employees for anything other than wages.
This past November, I participated in DevLearn. The conference was outstanding. Long term takeaways were designing units for tablets, the importance of fonts in design, and how to use several Web 2.0 tools. For two years, I’ve been told mLearnCon is the premier place for learning how to use mobile tools. Experts who participated in the design of our new school said #mLearnCon was the one stop for designing mobile units and assessments. My hope in going to mLearnCon was to find out how to design mobile assessments the user (student) could create. I want an assessment that students could build out. I’m thinking of a Google Sites type template and as long as students tag their assessments appropriately, the assessment could codify on the teacher end. My thought is if students are able to create their assessments on a device that’s in their pocket and they use that same device to send 3000 texts per month, they would be more vested in the assessment than if they’re completing something I’ve created for them. Further, I know this type of thing is currently possible, and if that’s the case then why isn’t it being done? I know I’m not explaining this thought as clearly as I’d like, but this is something I’ve been looking for since 2007. Instead of telling students to complete a journal reflection in the manner I want them to, I want students to create their own formative assessments. Think of the awesomeness associated with school-wide student-designed summative-assessments! I had a quest at mLearnCon; unfortunately, it was a corporate conference and @MrKlitzke and myself made up 50% of the K12 participants. The conference was an ugly ugly experience. This was the most expensive conference I’ve ever attended and I only met two other people in K12, and they were not teachers but curriculum folks. What’s worse, I had a conversation with an eLearning Guild Group Sales Coordinator and was told K12 folks from all around the world would be at the conference. I really feel misled and hustled. I think the eLearning Guild is made up of a ton of good folks, in fact, I follow a bunch of them on Twitter and get great stuff from them, but if you’re a K-12 educator, stay the hell away from mLearnCon- it’s not worth your time or money. I could go on and on, but I’ll wait to see if anyone has comments or wants more proof, I’d appreciate being called out on this one. Also unfortunate is that I don’t see how I can justify ever attending another conference put on by the eLearning Guild. That’s a shame because DevLearn was so good and well worth the time and money. One bad fail, one epic fail and the ProfDev is sunk. More ugly, I don’t mind being wrong, but I hate being wrong about my convictions. I started off this post with a conviction, “I had to go to conferences to get the training I needed.” About a month ago, I was having a discussion with Jamie Steckart. It was approaching midnight and my DroidX was about to shutdown. Jamie and I were talking about conferences, to paraphrase him, he said, you don’t need to spend all that money and go to conferences, just do it yourself. I disagreed with his assertion. How could our small staff get all the learning ourselves? We need to go ‘out there’ and get coached up. Well Jamie was right and I was wrong. I didn’t get a thing out a $2,000 conference. For that money, I could have paid a coder to write the assessment tool specifically for my students and the school. I’m all about professional development, but I don’t want to get on a plane for the next two years. I want to create the learning community with my team. My colleagues, my students, my parents, the Kimberly community, that’s who I want to learn from. Can I? Can we build a community school and bring people in? We’ll see…it’s time to challenge some of the convictions held and see what gets the best outcomes. Over the next 6 weeks, I’ll be posting each each week on start-up, my hope is to provide an anthology for schools trying to open. I don’t know anything about running a school and I know very little about the practice of teaching; but I do know about getting a school to start-up, and I hope to share that.