As I noted in my previous post, I attended the California League of School’s Technology & RTI Conference. I will also be attending the CEC Conference this coming April. Which brings me to a point: I like conferences. Why? I like interacting with like-minded people who aren’t my everyday comrades in arms. When you teach at a rural school, you know everyone’s life story, as in every student in my district’s entire <100 student population. It’s like I go to work every day and it’s a great big family reunion: this makes it much harder to be objective about lesson planning and teaching technique. Attending conferences is my outlet to find out how other educators are getting by in the classroom, educators who know nothing at all about my students.
While I am aware that special educators must focus on the needs of the individual, sometimes it’s also nice to move away from everything I know about my specific students’ needs and just consider teaching from a basic pedagogical perspective. It opens me up to new ideas that I can then later apply to individualized circumstances.
That being said, have you ever attended a conference and been completely overwhelmed? At any given conference, you’re bound to attend 8–12 workshops and by the end of it, you’re worn thin with possibilities. Some people go to a conference, learn one hundred amazing things, then go right back into the classroom and change nothing. Why? Because change is hard, especially when you think of it in terms of “How am I going to implement one hundred new changes next week?” So, what I do when I attend a conference is consider the top three things I want to change, and I also factor in how easy it will be for me to foster such a change.
For example, at my recent CLS Conference, I narrowed my “Do Now” list to this happy trio: Google Docs, Twitter, and Kahn Academy.
First up: Google Docs. I already use it personally, so this was a no brainer and presents less of a learning curve. Did you know you can create questionnaire forms on Google Docs, e-mail them out, and when people answer them (in the body of their e-mail), the answers automatically save to a spreadsheet in your Google Docs? I wanted my students to gain some global awareness and think about how people in other parts of the world live. We created a questionnaire and sent it out to people in other countries. We are currently awaiting responses that will convert directly into a spreadsheet. Cool for them, easy for me. Upcoming plans for Google Docs are to use the computer lab for my 5th grade reading group to group-write an essay.
Next in line: Twitter. Again, I already had a Twitter account, so it was easy to say yes to this one too. I created a classroom Twitter account and at the end of every lesson, I pose a question to everyone. Students write out their answers, which I then input onto Twitter. We read everyone’s answers together, not knowing who said which statement, which makes the discussion fun. There are different ways to implement Twitter into your classroom, as a backchannel during a lesson where everyone has their own username or as a homework assignment where everyone is required to login in from home, but for the purposes of my classroom, the in-classroom usage and anonymity are preferable. Sometimes, I ask an open-ended question like, “If you could study and read about any subject at school, it would be _______.” Other times, I’ll ask a question that’s more relevant to our reading assignment. For example, we just finished “A Drop of Water,” and my question was, “If you could have power over only one form of water, would it be, solid, liquid, or gas?” Still other times, I ask a question like, “I can make this classroom a quieter, better learning environment by ______” (I’m guessing you can imagine what type of day that was….).
The third tool I took from my conference was Kahn Academy. This Web site is a must-have for teachers. It’s like a virtual tutor, with an online blackboard and everything. I used it to help my 7th graders study square roots. To be honest, I can handle basic square root equations, but I am still not the best at explaining it to others. I found both my instruction and the textbook examples were not sufficient to help my students get through their more difficult square root problems, like those involving non-perfect squares and decimals (that is, half the assignment). We watched a 10-minute video on Khan Academy and not only did they learn something new, but so did I. This experience had a twofold success: my students were able to learn and I was able to model accessing information through technology to enhance my own learning.
So, that’s my top three from the last conference. Who knows what else I’ll integrate into the classroom before the CEC Convention comes around, and the cycle starts all over again.
Your turn: what’s the best idea you ever took home from a conference?