Sunday, January 17, 2016

Chrome Camp - A Great PD Experience

Connected Learning is an education professional development organization here in St. Louis. It was created by a few progressive educators and built into a real force in the region. The goal of Connected Learning is to disrupt and hack PD so that educators can lead and get the PD that they want and need, not what others deem "appropriate" for them. The motto I hear from the organizers is "Be greedy in your PD. Get what you need." It is a great rule to live by.

Yesterday, Connected Learning put on an event called Chrome Camp (#ChromeCamp). It was a morning of professional development centered on technology, Google and learning. It was run "edcamp" style. After an introduction, teachers signed up for sessions they wanted to talk about or had questions about. From those sign-ups, a schedule was made and teachers were off to the sessions they wanted to attend. Simple and smart, this is a great way to share the expertise of everyone in the room. There are no "presentations". Rather, teachers meet and share. They get to have conversations about teaching and learning while also discovering dozens of tools and tricks that they may not have known before.

I went to three sessions during Chrome Camp. During each session, the conversation was easy and natural. It was very much like when teachers congregate in a room during their planning period. The conversation might start with one question but within fifteen minutes, a half dozen technology solutions, some new ideas for classroom design, a raft of new apps and three or four ideas about how to acquire materials are all thrown into the discussion. It is unreal how much ground a group of teachers can cover when they are left alone to learn and share together with no rigid agenda. Teachers are naturally curious about their art and always want to improve. Connected Learning gives teachers the opportunity to find others who can help them do just that and trusts that these teachers will aspire to become better. After all, if teachers didn't want to get better at what they do, they would not have shown up to Chrome Camp.

The mission of Connected Learning is one that everyone should embrace. Educators are the experts on education. Through sharing, teachers can solve the problems in their classrooms and make the learning experiences better for all of their students. There is no longer a need for pre-planned, canned, top-down PD for teachers. The real learning occurs when we empower each other and draw on the expertise of all. When all PD is run like Chrome Camp or EdCamp, then education professional development will be more relevant, more immediate and more effective.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Student-Led Conferences

In most aspects of our teaching, we have tried to give more control of the learning over to the kids. We want them to be more autonomous, more driven by passion and more in control of their own learning. Most of the projects that we do in class has various elements of choice and autonomy built in and some even have an element of student creation and planning in them. We feel that this is the best way for kids to learn. When they make the decisions, hit the roadblocks, solve the problems and emerge a more well-rounded learner, then we have all succeeded.

One of the areas where we have fallen short of student-involvement is the traditional parent-teacher conference. We enjoy meeting the parents during the fall and learning all about the kids from the parents' points of view. These sessions are incredibly valuable for us because we learn so much about the kids in such a short period of time. The kids are always welcome to come to the conferences but very few do. It is a night reserved for conversation between the parents and teachers.

During our spring conference schedule, we are changing things around. We will be conducting student-led conferences for our kids during our spring conference in March. We want the kids talking to the parents about their learning. We want the parents to see the awesomeness that the kids show us everyday in class. We want the kids to see themselves as autonomous, intelligent, creative, problem-solving learners. All of these goals are accomplished during student-led conferences.

Our planning for these conferences begins now. We have chosen Google Sites as our vehicle for students to create their learning portfolios. Over the next two months, they will be beefing up their sites, choosing projects, papers and other learning activities to display on their sites. We have worked a bit with Google Sites this year so kids have enough skill to navigate the app and learn it even better. They will add some math, social studies, science and English work that they want to showcase and they must be able to talk to their parents about their learning during these assignments. They should also be able to talk about goals for the rest of the year and how they see themselves as learners. 

We will ask parents to give authentic feedback to the kids, both on the content of the conference and on the process as well. The kids learn the entire conference process from greeting their parents at the door to seating them to introducing the conference to thanking them for coming. The kids learn the etiquette that goes into having a productive meeting and showing their learning portfolios. 

During the course of our preparation, we give the kids several handouts (actually we make them available online). They get the step-by-step instructions and the framework for the conferences. We note specific projects or learning experiences that we want them to showcase and also give them the opportunity to choose some of their own projects to include. By the time we are ready to conference, they have gone over much of their learning and decided which things to showcase and also produced a slick, eye-catching digital portfolio of their work.

Student-led conferences provide a great way for kids to be in charge of their learning. It helps them hone some of the soft skills that they will need to succeed in life. Often, it also helps them see themselves in a different light, as productive, intelligent, confident learners.