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Month: July, 2015

The Best Conference Ever

I might need to stop all blog posts from beginning with my own anxiety about my writing ability. Right away with this one I am ready to dive into how hard it is to title something but then I decided to be short and sweet so hopefully I’ll stick with that one. I am not sure if I’m great at titles or not but that seems to capture it.

I went to the 30th annual Learning Differences Conference in March and it was the best conference ever. Since then I have been trying to decipher what it was about this conference that made it the best ever hoping that other conferences (and there are a lot of them) that do not illicit this reaction in teachers could learn from this experience. So professional development developers take note; here is my current list of characteristics that make  the Best Conference Ever:

#1 There is no best, only best for the individual at that moment.

There is no “best conference ever”. There is however a conference where the content, delivery and setting strike a chord. They take prior knowledge and questions and crystalize it in a way that gives a new lens in which to process all previous knowledge and any new knowledge. Anyone who says anything even slightly related to the conference topic “gets” to hear why this was the best conference ever and exactly how it connected. This may or may not be related to a conference experience related via an extroverted processor in which I am the poster child.

#2 Sessions that illicit a need to talk, tweet, photo-document during and after

This second one may only be true for extroverted conference attendees. At a school mandated professional development several years ago the speaker started with identifying the difference between the introverted attendees who wanted to hear and process silently and the extroverted attendees who needed to talk and reflect about everything they heard. It was a nice way of making the people like me who talk too much be able to name and possibly hem in their behavior to be respectful of the introverts.

I notice that conferences I really like make me want to comment to my neighbors. I always take notes that rarely do I look at again but mostly to keep me paying attention. Lately some conferences have a Twitter hashtag and I find it useful to try to Tweet the gems I hear. However Dr. Margalit presented “Loneliness, Hope and Resilience in Students with Learning Differences: Theory and Implications for Practice” on Saturday. One variable she examined in her research was electronic communication.  She pointed out that it was sad that that people came all around the world to attend and were on their phones during the presentations. I wanted to explain to her after that I was tweeting about the conference but there may be a point to staying focused and not-tweeting during presentations.

Despite my tweeting I paid enough attention to refer to presentations, speakers and resources frequently.  Many of the initiatives I am working on for next year emerged from this conference.

#3 Presentations are thoughtfully arranged and connected

This seems obvious but too many conferences do not have a sense of continuity and the keynote talks are not linked together.  In a conference where the presentations are thoughtfully arranged and connected the breakout sessions can refer to the keynotes to help emphasize their point.  I have never arranged a conference but when this works I am sure it can be attributed to careful planning and communication.

#4 Presenters stick around and attend other sessions

When the conference is well organized and presentations build on each other it makes sense to see presenters attending other sessions.  At the Learning Differences conference it was also evident how much personal investment each speaker had in the issue of so they obviously wanted to see information on related topics.

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Roots of Inspiration

Summer is an odd time for teachers.  It is somewhat vacation but I can never help but think constantly about next year.  Now in my 13th year of summer’s I notice that each year the thoughts and planning are a bit different.  This year I was wrestling with how to involve more choice in projects.  As someone who likes detailed planning this feels a bit like launching off a cliff into the unknown.  I know my students need scaffolding and guidance but I also know that choice will help their by-in and motivation so embracing both of those simultaneously is a challenge for my brain.  I am reminded that in yoga we work to embrace the effort and ease in a pose simultaneously.

After not thinking about school for a few weeks of summer I have been incredibly inspired lately in the most unlikely of places.  In a home-goods store in my hometown I saw this beautiful book “Biophilia” by Christopher Marley.  After a night of delving deep into the Internet on the topic that I found this amazing interdisciplinary curriculum by Bjork connected to her album “Biophilia”.   Then I read my Free Will Astrology Horoscope from last week and learned about Darwin’s book “The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms”.

Somehow these disconnected topics seemed to all come together. Science at its core is an appreciation of the natural world.  Noticing the art in it, organizing it, observing infinitesimal changes made by worms in soil to allow mould and eventually all plants to grow in soil these are at the core of what science is all about.  Starting with this will allow for choice. It will set the stage and hopefully inspire.  It will be… (insert educational trend words of the moment)  the big idea, the theme, the unifying concept, the essential question, the guiding principle.

Suddenly the beginning of the year is taking shape; for 9th and 10th grade biology begins with collecting seeds, bugs, leaves or other similar organisms or structures of organisms for an art project. Students will write a paragraph (curatorial comments) with their piece and how it is related to classification of living things.  Maybe we will work on this with an elementary school class.  Maybe we will hold an All-Island Art Show.  Throughout we can reading excerpts from Darwin’s book as we are introduced to and practice the Reciprocal Teaching reading comprehension strategies we use throughout the year. Designing experiments on mould as we investigate soil science in the garden to understand the scientific method.  My 11th grade chemistry class starts with soil science to understand properties of matter so this may spill over to their work as well.

Teaching is both an art and science and the more I teach the more the art part comes through.  This is hard to explain, this planning is messy and not easy to replicate.  It is not scalable or measurable and though it makes the scientist in me quiver maybe it is for the best.