Tackling Conferences as a Team

This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend the IB Annual Regional Conference of the Americas hosted in Toronto, Ontario. The theme for the conference was Learning Together, and there was over 1,400 educators from around the world in attendance. With the conference happening so close to my school, we were able to send a strong team of 19 to the conference from across the PYP, MYP and DP teaching teams within the school.

One of the challenges that I have experienced at conferences is often wanting to be in more than one place at a time. Often, there are two or more sessions happening simultaneously that I am interested in going to. The IB Conference is no exception to this rule! With having a strong team of people attending a conference together, it is possible to use technology to help everyone gather knowledge from multiple sessions that are happening at the same time so people don’t have to worry about not being in two places at once.

The first time that I saw this approach being used was at Integrated 2014 in Portland, Oregon. The conference organizers created a hyperlinked GoogleDoc that listed all of the conference sessions and encouraged participants to record there notes in the document for all of the conference attendees to share. Throughout the sessions, participants helped to build a robust document with notes from all of the sessions. After the conference, participants could read about other workshops, click on links and benefit from the shared knowledge of other participants. Even if you had attended this conference as the only teacher from your school or district, you still had a ‘team’ to learn with and from. Although this document was very useful, it was overwhelming the quantity of notes that it included and the context of note taking varied among participants.

If you are fortunate enough to be attending a conference with a team of educators from your school or district, it is a wonderful opportunity to harness technology to fuel a collaborative team approach to tackling the conference! It also allows members of your team who are not able to attend the conference to benefit from the knowledge gained at the conference as the document can be shared with a wider audience after the fact.

In advance of the conference, an online collaborative document can be created in a tool such as GoogleDocs and shared with the members of your team that are attending the conference. When setting up the document you might want to consider what format would make the most sense for note taking. Is there certain information that you would like from each session (i.e., names of the presenters, email addresses, links)? Do you want the notes to be anonymous or would you like people to attach their name to the notes? How can the ‘comments’ feature be used? Can a highlighting colour system be created to help draw attention to action items? One tip is to use the ‘Table of Contents’ feature within GoogleDocs to create a hyperlinked schedule at the beginning of the document to make navigation easier.

Following the conference, it might be helpful to have one person take a few minutes to ‘clean up’ up the document. This does not mean removing any notes, simply looking for places where there are extra spaces that could be removed, making font size consistent, and other things to make the document visually appealing for when it is shared with a wider audience.

In using this approach at the IB conference, I found that my own experience was enriched by the experiences of my colleagues who were also in attendance. I was able to gain knowledge from sessions I did not attend in person and I am able to start specific conversations with people about the sessions they attended.

I hope that this type of collaboration and sharing becomes a standard practice at more conference in the future.



Think, Create, Innovate – A Project Zero Adventure

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Project Zero Perspectives conference hosted in Atlanta by Atlanta International School and the High Museum of Art. It was one of the best organized conferences I have attended from a pedagogical perspective as there were 4 themes (educating for global competency, encouraging creativity and maker thinking, growing up in the digital age, making learning and thinking visible)  than ran throughout the entire weekend. The various keynotes and sessions built on these themes and really allowed the participants to see the big ideas emerging as the weekend went on. The overarching inspiration for the conference was the following quote:

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things. – Theodore Levitt

I could not possibly share everything that I was able to take away from this conference, but here are a few of the highlights.

Day 1

Shari Tishman – Keynote
Big Idea: By looking slowly at things we can understand the ways in which things are complex – complexity is a powerful performance of understanding
– understanding is something that you do rather than something that you have
– slow looking – taking the time to notice more than what meets the eye at first glance, it is a purposeful action that is done intentionally to look beyond what comes naturally
– many of the ‘Visible Thinking’ strategies have been designed to include a slow looking phase
– 3 types of complexity
1. complexity of parts and interactions
2. complexity of perspective
3. complexity of engagement

Designing for Disaster (@BuildingMuseum) – Interactive Workshop
– Resilience is a systematic approach
– The built environment is not arbitrary. It is the result of human decisions making.
– How should be build? Where should we built?
– What does a city need to function? What should a city offer its residents?
– What infrastructure or buildings are needed for each of these services?
– How do we organize all of it?
– Who should help decide where to build?

Fostering Global Competency (Clarkston Community Schools) – Interactive Workshops
– Children grow into the intellectual life around them. – Vygotsky – cannot create a culture of thinking for kids if the adults don’t have a culture of thinking as well – need to model thinking
– importance of the whole person – need to be well rounded to function in a global world
– culture is shared – we all have to be part of creating a culture of thinking
– building culture of knowledge  in community through sharing of authentic information from members in your community

Keynote – Daniel Wilson – Director of Project Zero
– What does it mean to learn for a global competency?
– How can we encourage creativity and maker thinking?
– What are the civic, moral, and ethical opportunities and challenges in growing up in a digital age?
– How can we make learning and think visible? – learning is constructed through the making of artifacts and actions – performance based – highly reflective journey that is done socially not heirarchial, learning from one to another
– learning is not done in one mode
– learning is complex
– learning as a verb, an emerging action
– we cannot ‘control’ learning; the best we can do as designers of learning for others is to create places where this complex actions can emerge

Day 2

David Perkins – Keynote
Theme: Wondering to Learn: Education with Questions for Tomorrow’s World
– develop a culture of questions in contrast to a culture of answers
– What is worth learning now?
– we need to teach students to LIVE WITH questions, they are not done at the end of the day or the end of a unit
– questions need to be part of the content not the drivers of content
– to speak of a culture of questions does not mean that we don’t care about the answers
– if you imagine a culture of questions, you spend your time on looking for good answers – abundant answers but often not final answers

Qualities of Effective Learning Communities – Daniel Wilson
– How to YOU (as an individual) CREATE a learning community? – interesting to think about your own personal contribution to fostering a learning community
– tell your story – “Here’s something that happened …” – invite someone in to you classroom to observe/participate in a lesson
– having a provocative perspective – “I strongly believe…” – Teachers need to be model learners and need to be provided the time and space to do this, not just have it be another expectations
– A puzzle – “Something I really wonder about is … ”
– A probing questions – “Tell me more about this … ”
– Elicit ideas – “What do you think about … ”
– These 5 conversation moves have been show to be strategies from which people learn
– How can we be more explicit about cultivating the routines and space to support the language that creates learning communities?
– informal learning opportunities are the gold mine of learning because the participants set the goals, the process, and the evaluation/outcome
– 80% of professional learning is built informally
– How do we better help capture the informal learning opportunities in our schools for the adults?

Interactive Session – Making Learning Visible – Mara Krechevsky
– importance of relationships and listening – documentation – practice of observing, recording, interpreting, and sharing through different media the processes and the product of learning in order to deepen learning
– we don’t document what happens – we document what we think happens
– “making learning visible makes learning possible”

Closing Keynote: Tina Grotzer – Thinking About Complexity
– human cognitive architecture is not particularly well adapted for perceiving, attuning to, and reasoning about complexity- complexity doesn’t have to be wicked – it can be engaging and beautiful
– complex, ill structured problems offer terrain for some of the deepest, most rewarding learning
– different forms of complexity – spatial (space), temporal(time), perspectives

Day 3
Keynote – Howard Gardner – Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Re-Reframed – wondering about and wondering at – Teaching for ‘Wonder’standing
– Technological Challenge – young people see and think of the world very differently than before
– media is a two way experience now
– the fast changing yet also oddly permanent digital world
– need to focus on teaching students methods of discovery/verification of information
– critical examination of information
– establishing truths is a distinctly CONvergent experience
– neighbourly vs. ethical good
– What does it mean to participate in a community whose size and extent you cannot know?
– There is no easier way to completely go wrong than to think you can solve a complex problem on your own.

The Global Lens Project – Veronica Boix Mansilla
– preparing youth for our times through interdisciplinary studies, quality journalism and global media – the best starting point for our curriculum is the world
– the media is where we get almost all of our information about the world
– we need to teach students to navigate the world of media
– understanding the world, our place, and ourselves through quality journalism and global media
– we consume around 92-95% of our media from domestic sources
– journalism as a mediator between us and the world
– quality journalism can be a tool for provoking learning about global issues

Finding Meaning
What’s the story? What is the human story? What is the world story? What is the new story? What is the untold story?

Finding Significance
Why might this matter to me? to my community? to the world?

Why can GAFE be so powerful?

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Google (GAFE) Summit in Kitchener. I think I might have been one of the only people from a non-GAFE school/board but I was still able to learn many things that I can apply to my teaching practice (another blog post!). For me, I try to make technology integration not about the technology but a focus on maintaining strong pedagogy and utilizing the tools to allow us to reach beyond what is possible without its use. Over the weekend listening to many of the other educators talk, I couldn’t help but thinking about why GAFE was such a powerful tool when mass adoption in an organization takes place. I also developed a greater understanding of how GAFE can enhance teachers ability to hit the sweet spot in the TPACK framework .

Here are a couple of the strengths I identified:

(1) Everyone speaking the same language – Having a common ‘toolkit’ allows all teachers to speak the same language in terms of their technological knowledge (TK). There are still ways to customize the toolkit through the use of add-ons and 3rd party tools; however, the core set of tools provides amazing flexibility and adaptability across K-12 (+higher ed) and subject area. As everyone is familiar with the same tools, teachers can ‘collaborate’ and assist each other, sharing their knowledge and ideas, strengthening the technological knowledge. With greater technological knowledge, teachers are better able to see where technology can be selected to work together with their pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge.

(2) Workflow – The GAFE suite makes distributing and collecting student work a streamlined process, but it also allows teachers to observe students ‘during’ the learning and can help shift the focus from being solely on the product of the learning but also to the process of the learning. With the ability to monitor and support students throughout the learning process, the teachers role can shift to being a facilitator and guider of the learning process, rather than the keeper of knowledge (pedagogical knowledge). This is not to suggest that it is not possible to do this without the use of GAFE because of course it is; however, it could require a greater level of technological knowledge to ‘hack’ other tools to preform similar functions and be more time consuming to monitor.

(3) Enhanced Assessment Capabilities – With the shift to monitoring the process of learning, the GAFE suite has a number of built in tools that allow for teachers to provide timely and effective feedback throughout the learning process. The ability to provide ‘comments’ and have students respond to the comments while they are working, allows for personalized feedback without the student having to ‘hand-in’ their work, the teacher sitting down to look over all of the tasks, and then waiting until the next time they see the student to return the work. Another function that is beneficial to the assessment process is the ‘revision history’. This is particularly useful if you are looking at shared-documents where students are working in groups and you can see each members contributions, or if you are looking at how students are able to apply feedback and make changes to their work. In terms of TPACK, having more formative assessment information during the process of learning allows the teacher to identify concepts that students are having difficulty with and better match their ‘content’ with the students needs.

(4) Takes the focus away from the technology – This kind of seems silly but I actually think that when students and teachers are using a common toolkit and develop fluency with the tools the focus of the learning doesn’t need to be the technology. I personally thinking, that often the sweet spot in TPACK is reached when the focus is not on the technology but on the harmonious blending of the technology, the content, and the pedagogy. Currently, I find that I have to spend a lot of time teaching the tools that I have selected for my students to use because they have often not used them in previous grades. Although students today are fast learners, and often figure out things that I didn’t even know were possible, it still takes time and shifts the focus away from our other learning. With GAFE, the toolkit can become a ubiquitous part of their learning environment instead of an add-on.

What other reasons have you found that make GAFE a powerful toolkit in your organization?
What drawbacks have you found to GAFE?

#GREAT14 Conference

The Year 2 Cohort of the MAET Overseas program, organizes and presents a conference related to educational technology. All of the arrangements for the conference are made during a 2 week period before the conference is hosted.

Each member of the Year 2 cohort is a member of a presentation group responsible for hosting two sessions, as well as contributing to the overall organization of the conference.

Our first session was done in the Ignite format and each member of the group prepared an Ignite talk. I selected to speak on my experiences with integrating coding in the classroom. If you are not familiar with the Ignite format, the presenter uses 20 slides with each slide showing for 15 seconds on auto-advance.

For more resources related to the IGNITE session and my co-presenters presentations please visit:

Our second session was Engaging Teachers in Professional Learning: Creating Sustainable Change. This session was presented by Doug Frankish, Natasha Smith, Ashley Hufnagel, and myself.

The following is a recording of the beginning of the session and portions of the breakout groups.

For more resources related to the Professional Learning session please visit:


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