Learning2 Puts Learning First

Chocolatier making chocolate

Learning2 is not a technology conference; it is a learning conference infused with technology. Technology is the servant of learning, not the other way around. The conference started in 2007 in Asia, and was held in Europe this year for the first time.

This was my second time attending Learning2; my first attendance was in Shanghai, in 2010. I remember that I focused on Home-School communication last time. The framework in Milan was different from what I remembered it being, in both format and content.

I observed the following elements at the Learning2 conference in Milan:

  • short talks on diverse topics by students and educators each day (TED style)
  • teacher led sessions
  • student led sessions
  • extended sessions
  • unconference workshops
  • cohort meetings (Administrators, Design Technology, EAL/ESL, Elementary Generalist – Lower ES, Elementary Generalist – Upper ES, ELA, Humanities, Information Literacy/Library, Mathematics, Science, Technology Leader – ES, Technology Leader – MS/HS, Technology Leader – WS, World Languages)
  • social gatherings (breakfast, lunch, aperitivo)

I led a teacher workshop on iPad Playdate: Apps for Language Learning, and attended a session on Making E-portfolios Work by Kimberly House from Bavarian International School (more on that in the future). I watched a professional chocolatier demonstrate how to make chocolate, and attended an unconference session on Genius Hour/20% time and skipped the second unconference session to work quietly in the library, processing all of the learning that I was doing. I also skipped the student led session; I tried to attend the one on Minecraft but it was full, so I went to the library and played with Minecraft Pocket Edition on my iPad for a while. I could have benefited from a student teacher.

The bulk of the time in Learning2 is spent in extended sessions. It’s less than 50% of the conference time, but the greatest amount of time spent on a single focus. I participated in two extended sessions, which are three hour long workshops. The first was called Connect Your Community, Connect Your Students, Connect Yourself by Marcello Mongardi, and the second was Students as Creators and Curators of Textbooks by Jeff Utecht. There were four other sessions: Designing Spaces that Build Community by Paula Guinto, Programmable Robots and Coding in the Primary Classroom by Warren Apel, Building a Culture of Collaboration by Tricia Friedman, and Living in Beta by Sheldon Bradshaw. Each session is a combination of presentation and hands-on experiences, with an opportunity to consider the relevance of what you’re learning to your classroom, and how you can apply the content to your own context. I found myself moving at my own pace, shaping my learning based on my interest and needs, and using fellow participants and the presenter to jump past some of the initial challenges when encountering a new idea or program. In the Curation workshop, there was a representative from Flipboard who was able to answer questions and helped me compare and contrast Flipboard to my existing tool, Feedly. As a result, I have a good idea of the difference between them and the value of each. I will keep using Feedly personally because I like the unread/read feature, but will use Flipboard for collaboration; I will share more about using Flipboard with students.

Learning2 is a great model for professional development. I suggest having a goal list for the conference, going with a team, making time to debrief and share learning after, and coming up with actions to improve teaching and learning. I encourage you to look into Learning2 when planning your professional development for the next academic year. It will be held in Warsaw, April 6-9, 2017.

Before you leave, take a few minutes to watch this talk by Scintilla.

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Cross-posted at ISP Elementary School IT.

Top 5 Learning2 Quotes

By Navicore - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonid_Meteor.jpg

There was a series of thought provoking and inspiring talks at Learning2 Europe 2016. In an effort to be present, I mostly recorded main ideas, next steps, things to think about further. However, there were five instances in which I was inspired to record a direct quote. I share these with you below:

  1. “[Students are] shut down by an education system forcing us to hide.” – Scintilla Benevolo on What’s Really Important 
  2. “[Our] education [system] raises the individual and not the generation.” – Scintilla Benevolo
  3. “Why is the thing that is so important to us the thing that we put last?” – Paula Guinto on Heart you ok
  4. “What does proficient or distinguished mean in teacher appraisal.” – Jeff Utecht on What Will You Change
  5. “The closer we can get together, we become the scaffolding and it brings that moon just a little bit closer.” – Sheldon Bradshaw on Against the Moonshot

Since I have two quotes from Scintilla’s talk, I thought it appropriate to embed her talk below:

Analyzing the Learning2 PD Model

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I attended my first Learning2 conference in 2010. While working in Nagoya, Japan, I convinced my school to send me to Learning2.010 in Shanghai. I was impressed by the format of the conference, and with the use of cohorts as well as extended sessions.

There is research on what works in professional development. I wrote my dissertation on that for my masters. I define effective professional development as that resulting in a change in practice or belief to align with best practices. The following are crucial elements of effective professional development.

  • School leadership support
  • Content and context focused
  • A culture of collaboration
  • Address teacher beliefs
  • Individualized and responsive to teachers’ needs
  • Ongoing long term PD

How well does Learning2 stack up against these 6 elements?

School leadership support – In a debrief session, a participant identified the need for getting more administrators as participants in Learning2 so that they can be true partners of change in schools, as opposed to cheering on the sideline.

Content and context focused – The host school is part of the planning for each Learning2 conference. This provides context about the state of education in the region and issues that are important to regional educators. This helps decide the structure of the conference (e.g. this conference had two teacher sessions each day instead of the typical single session). Each participant is also placed in self-selected cohorts directly related to their current or (near) future roles or content area. This provides opportunities to focus on content and context. However, individual participants should further curate their choices of sessions to match their context.

A culture of collaboration – Learning2 encourages cohorts to select platforms for collaboration during the conference as well as beyond. This is largely dependent on the individual cohort leaders and participants. Teachers may need to develop individual connections with presenters and other participants for just in time and one on one support. Social networks can be helpful in this, but there is no guarantee of it in the online world. A good model for schools to follow would be to send teams of teachers with common goals, so that they can support each other with implementation of new approaches and strategies when back at school. This may work well if the team has a particular focus or inquiry question before they come that they can use for filtering the content that they encounter. Another approach could be to decide the inquiry during a debrief after the conference is finished.

Address teacher beliefs – It is difficult for conference organizers to address teacher beliefs. This would fall on the presenters at individual workshops, and on members at the school. Learning2 has provided opportunities for exposure to different instructional strategies and student work through talks by educators and students, as well as through student presenters. In the sessions I attended, there were examples of student work. These could all potentially challenge teacher beliefs. Opportunities for reflection and teacher synthesis during sessions could also be helpful. A conference like Learning2 with is not tech focused but strongly tech infused often has many like minded people. It is important to consider how to draw a wide range of teachers from the field.

Individualized and responsive to teachers’ needs – Both cohorts and unconference sessions, as well as social events provide opportunities for personalized and responsive PD. The framework is provided; it is up to individual participants to engage in this process. It is also up to facilitators to make sure that a variety of voices are being heard and that individuals aren’t monopolizing the conversations.

Ongoing, long term PD – The extended sessions, which I think are the focus of the conference, provide a significant amount of time for the learning; I find 3 hours to be a comfortable length. For both extended sessions, the presenters had shared resources that participants could take with them for later support and further learning. Presenters of the teacher workshops also provided resources for further reference and use. While resources for extended sessions are available on the Learning2 site, those of teacher and student presentations are not. I think that this is an unfortunate oversight. The use of cohorts provide the opportunity for continued networking and professional learning beyond the conference. Participants can also connect with presenters on social networks for further conversations. One thing that I’ve intended to do when leading workshops is to highlight different types of instructional approaches as appropriate. As I reflect on the conference, I realize that I did not do that in my teacher workshop, and that presenters seldom do. The research shows that it’s helpful in PD to highlight appropriate instructional strategies, so perhaps that’s an area where presenters can all improve.

In general, Learning2 is a great model for professional learning. The benefit to the individual and to a school depends on the caliber of presenters, the planning and facilitation skills of the cohort leader, and the engagement of the individuals and school teams. These pieces interact with each other to provide an experience unique to each participant. Individual participants have great power (and responsibility) to determine what the impact of the conference will be in her professional life. In short, plan to participate in Learning2, be purposeful about what you participate in and how you do it, reflect after, create goals and next steps, and continue the conversation past the end of the conference. Do those things, and you’re sure to find that participating in Learning2 improves your teaching.

Stop Pretending in Education

In education, we have to stop pretending that

  • learning happens in straight lines, neat boxes and perfect circles
  • the adults have the answers, independent of conversations with children and communities and can effectively impart the answers to children
  • technology programs are naturally innovative and transformative
  • we are preparing students for their life and its okay to ignore who they are right now
  • learning can happen even when there is no engagement and fun

Scott McLeod challenged others to participate in a conversation on how to #makeschooldifferent with the prompt “… we have to stop pretending”. In this challenge, I’d like to invite @jmikton, @sbradshaw, @BobsPragueBlog, @elizabethperry and @njtechteacher to participate.

Why I Dislike(d) Conferences

I spent much of last weekend at Bavarian International School in Munich, attending the ECIS Tech conference. The theme of the conference was on building engagement. I went to several sessions on making and the maker movement, collaboration, and technology support/coaching. I have a list of ideas to explore further through thinking, conversations, blogging and exploration.

I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of conferences. I’ve been thinking about what the traditional/typical conference offers to reframe my thinking from “don’t like conferences” to “conferences offer …”. The reason that I don’t like conferences is because they are an inadequate approach to professional development. I did my graduate work on professional development for effective technology integration. Conferences are the tip of the iceberg, but they can provide some unique opportunities.

Conferences are a great opportunity for informal learning. Take the chance to speak to people between and during sessions to expand your knowledge of what’s happening in education beyond your experience.

Conferences, especially large ones, provide exposure to new technology. Before going to a conference, make a list of the tools/resources that you are dissatisfied with or problems that you have not found a solution for. Visit vendors and demos to find out resources that may meet your needs. Also take the opportunity for hands-on experience with tools that you are curious about or have never encountered before to build your knowledgebase.

Attend sessions that are connected to your professional development plan. Look at the agenda to decide what value the conference offers you, and whether to attend. It’s okay to sit out a session; this could be a valuable opportunity to process a previous session and make a plan for integrating your new learning into your context. Spend some time looking at the schedule and select sessions that tie into your goals and plans, and that will help you achieve them. Have a focus.

Meet people from your virtual learning network. I’m a big fan of virtual connections but have to remember the importance of connections in the physical work. It adds a new dimension to the connections that you’ve built online when you can meet people in the physical world.

Present something that you’re excited or passionate about. Sometimes I feel that my role should be obsolete given the ease of finding things online. However, presenting lets you add the social element to learning which provides motivation and engagement. It also lets you cater to different personality types and learning preferences.

Take time to debrief. This is the process that I am embarking on. I plan to share resources to those who may be interested, to write some blog posts to expand and share my thinking, follow up with admin to clarify some goals, and implement some processes related to my own professional growth.

If you have a growth mindset, you can create your own learning experiences in a conference, or reframe the experiences provided to meet your goals and the needs of your role.

What strategies do you apply to grow from participation in conferences? Are you someone who loves conferences? I’d love to know what excites you about them.