Post-Conference Reflective Catch-Ups

I realized this morning that I have a lot of notes from two recent conference/events, so I am going to try to share some of the notes out here from both the National Writing Project’s Urban Sites Conference and the Massachusetts New Literacies Initiative. As it happens, both took place in Boston in the last two weeks. I’ve shared some bits from both events on the blog but these are more specific notes about specific sessions.

The Massachusetts New Literacies Initiative

At our last session of the year-long project, teachers shared much of what they had developed and implemented around New Literacies and learning. The projects and links will be shared later at our wiki site, but as I went around on our “gallery walk” and watched a few presentations, I took some notes.

  • One project teamed up a librarian with a fifth grade teacher on the topic of the Revolutionary War. The librarian helped with teaching research techniques and using the Web for search queries while the classroom teacher taught the history. Together, they helped the students create Glogster posters to represent what they had learned about the events leading to the Revolutionary War. I liked how the search and research lessons were part of the overall unit. It was a nice model for easy integration of technology into a traditional lesson.
  • A math unit that dealt with linear relationships had students using Google Earth to track the bus routes they took to get to school, graph out the data points (slope), and then share their findings on a Glogster page (Glogster was a big hit with a lot of the teachers in the institute). The use of a Sketchpad software program allowed students to create interesting and visually-appealing graphs. The use of the Google Earth — particularly the application that allows you to make real-time videos of a certain path — gave the project a very interesting angle (oooh, good word choice for a math project, right?). I am going to bring this project to my own sixth grade math teacher and see what he thinks about it.
  • A teacher shared a new program that is putting iPad devices into the hands of at-risk and special education students, as a way not only to motivate learning but to try to make the technology as invisible as possible. She noted that the district now has about 40 iPads in special education settings, and all new teachers to the districts are receiving iPads for their classroom. She noted that the apps for reinforcing learning have been invaluable, and that they are collecting data to determine any gains made by students who are using the iPads.
  • A teacher talked about using persuasive writing, a literature study around a book on modern-day slavery, and the use of collaborative writing on a Moodle site. He noted that his students, who are at-risk writers, have never been as engaged, and have never developed the kind of writing that he saw, in the past. He used videos to complement the reading, and then the persuasive writing pieces (written in small groups) were written for and mailed to politicians, pop culture icons and others as a way to talk about slavery in modern times. That use of authentic audience, and technology to enhance resources and writing, made a different, the teacher noted.
  • A teacher talked about the use of gaming in her high school classroom, particularly the use of Myst/Riven as immersive worlds that can spark writing of reluctant students. As a class, they played the games together, and then she would use scenes from the game to get her students writing. She noted such elements as narrative and expository writing, point of view, non-linear composition, complex and evolving plot lines and more.
  • Another teacher talked about using the Edmodo social platform for online literature circles, embedding other tools such as Voicethread and videos and other media to enhance the discussions. She noted that one thing she learned is that many of her best practices from the traditional classroom still have a lot of value in online spaces. That’s something for us to keep in mind, for sure.

And then, the week before, I was at the NWP Urban Sites Conference.

  • I attended a session entitled “Turning Distractions into Tools” that focused on ways to use technology that are in the lives of students in the classroom. They focused in on the use of video as a tool for reflection in the writing process — which I found interesting. One of the topics was developing consumer product reviews that were published, including for a local newspaper. We talked a lot about mobile devices and how they might make their way into classrooms.
  • Another session I attended was called “Bring It! Using Pop Culture to Develop Academic and Critical Literacy Among Urban Youth.” Here, the presenters talked about how to engage students in learning by tapping into the things they love — music, sports, culture and more. one of the presenters discussed how the launch of a sports magazine at his school had boys, in particular, writing with length and complexity that did not happen much prior to the project. But the magazine, which was online and on paper, gave these writers a voice, and access to sporting events.
  • I attended a session called “Empowering Student Writing through Filmmaking” that had us making movies in the workshop and reflecting on the compositional approaches that go into creating a video project, as well as all the writing that must happen in the pre-production and post-production stages.
  • Finally, a late-afternoon session entitled “Using Commercials in the Classroom” was a fascinating look at pop culture media and advertisements. We learned how to give students the stance to be critical viewers of media, and how to pick apart the rhetorical stance of advertisements. It was quite fascinating.

Phew. That is the fast lane of my notes from two conferences. I have a lot to think about, and a lot to consider when it comes to my own classroom, and both events were very thought-provoking in their own ways. What is clear is that technology, culture and learning are continuing to evolve as the world changes all around us. There’s  a lot for us to learn about.

Peace (in the sharing),

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