Reflecting on a Conference

Yesterday, my Technology Team at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project hosted a Technology Across the Curriculum conference and we had about 25 teachers attend, which is pretty decent for a Saturday morning. Most of them were not affiliated with the Writing Project and so, we are hoping that this served as a positive introduction to our ideas of “teachers teaching teachers” and “writing to learn” as the focus of activities.

Our keynote speaker, Mike Flynn (who is the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and a teacher at my school and a good friend), did a fantastic job of setting the tone of the day. Mike presented on the topic of the value of video in the elementary classroom, focusing in on a television program that he and his second graders produce around curricular themes (weather, salmon, etc). He injected some good humor and, also, laid out the rationale for such ventures (student engagement, knowledge of subject, public speaking, etc). I later joked to him that he may have lost a few folks when he mentioned that sometimes he is up until 3 or 4 a.m., working on editing of the movies at deadline.

We then broke the day into two sections, with three workshops. Everyone went into a session led by Tina on social networking for teachers. We wanted to give everyone a view of the ever-connected world. Tina had everyone visit, and urged them all to register, for Classroom 2.0 and begin connecting with other teachers. At the start of the conference, I noted that more than 20 teachers from my own network had posted greetings for them at our blog site, and they were all duly impressed and encouraged by those words. (another thank you to everyone).

The other two sessions were Audiocasting in the Classroom and Digital Storytelling Across the Curriculum.

The podcasting session was a combination of exploration and then hands-on work, using Audacity, which only one participant knew about. We also recorded a collective Day in a Sentence podcast (to be released later today with the Day in a Sentence post). They loved using Audacity and immediately understood the potential of the use of voice. One of the teachers is at my own school and we began planning how my class of sixth graders might team up with her class of fourth graders for a collaborative project.

The digital storytelling session, led by Mary, had folks working with both Make Beliefs Comics (always a huge hit) and VoiceThread. They loved the potential of VoiceThread. I had set up a master account, and created alternative identities for them to use and experiment with. I could tell that the examples we showed in the areas of math, science and history were hitting some chords with them. Our discussion at the end of the session (which I will podcast later) was also informative.

At the end of the conference, a number of folks asked when we would be doing more of these hands-on technology conferences and that is something our team will have to think about. There clearly was interest and our model of engagement and hands-on work was what these teachers needed. They wanted time to play and we gave that to them. Almost every hand in the room was raised when Mary asked how many of them learned something they could try out in the classroom on Monday.

For the most part, it was a smooth conference to run, with a great team of folks. We held the event at my school, and so I had time to prepare during the week (putting Audacity and PhotoStory3 on all of the computers). The wireless Internet network was wicked slow, for some reason, and so loading time for some web-based applications took a bit of time. The participants were more patient than I was. I paced the room.
Also, I want to give a shout-out to my school district’s Information Technology leader — Kim F. — who volunteered to come to the Conference, and act as tech support and troubleshooter for the sessions. I often run into teachers who are at odds with their Tech Staff and come into conflict. I know I am lucky to have Kim around and for her to give up a Saturday morning to be with us — as a volunteer — says a lot about her support for teacher inquiry. (And I let her play with my XO Computer, which had her full attention for a time).

I’ll be posting a few podcasts in the coming days and some photos from the conference. All in all: a great success.

Peace (in reflection),

  1. Those 25 participants got so much from this experience. It would be great to know what they do with the experience? Any way to check in with them? The conference blog is also fantastic. I just linked it on our SI08 blog as a great resource.
    How would you plan the next one? Where would you go from here?

  2. Hi Kevin–it sounds like you had a fabulous day and that you accomplished one of the major goals for something like this–getting people jazzed up about the possibilities. I have no doubt that at least some of these people will end up continuing to spread the word. This is great!

  3. Kevin, I’m glad you updated us. It sounded like a wonderful event. I could imagine doing what you’ve done to get people hooked, then following up with shorter once a month/2 months hands on sessions covering other tools. Thanks again for sharing!

  4. Kevin – it seems to me that a great part of the success of the day was due to your careful planning and pre-setup. You had it ready for success, which is crucial when entering into something as new and often daunting as Web 2.0 features are. You have undoubtedly given your participants a good preview of the careful thought that i a part of a writing project event. We had an event at NCWP which was a little similar and we have considered using it as a kickoff to a regular “First Thursdays” event at our site, where we would go into one thing each meeting in a little more depth. Kudos to you!

  5. Hi Lynn and Claire and everyone

    Lynn: the hands on activities were key. One of our Tech Team members called it a “play date” and that does seem true.

    Claire: thanks for stopping by and catching up on the event.

    Michelle and Bonnie: it is difficult to know how deep our conference has gone with folks and I wish we did have a better follow-up method. I’ll prob email them all soon, and ask for some post-conference reflection on what they are doing now, post-conference.

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