Saturday, March 5, 2011

Totally infowhelmed - TeachMeetNJ 2011 rocked!

(even though I only got a half-day...had an afternoon engagement to get home for)

This is a decompression post: Pete (@pete_rodrigues) and I spent the morning at TeachMeetNJ, 2011 (#tmnj11). It was my very first "un-conference," and I was blown away. I met and spoke to a number of educators I follow on Twitter (@tomwhitby) and met a whole lot more (@andycinek, @butwhat, @kdwashburn). The concept of the PLN blending back and forth between the Twitterverse and reality was great (interesting moment when I realized I knew the virtual person but did not realize that I sat close to him for an hour in the previous session...).

There is no rhyme or reason to this, just the mandatory brain dump. If I don't do this, I will lose it all...

First session: Designing Teaching & Constructing Learning, by Kevin D. Washburn (@kdwashburn). Focused on the "learning brain," and was inspiring. (Here is the handout he used.)

  • He took us through the core processes of learning: new data, labeling/sorting, attaching to prior knowledge, and application.
  • Discussed the brain's downtime (formula is +/- 2 added to the child's age; i.e. a 16 year old's brain has a 14-18 min window before it literally "turns off" for necessary downtime). For more info he suggested reading How The Brain Learns, by David Sousa
Student brains will take downtime if you plan for it or not. If you plan for it, you can use it to your advantage.


  • Kevin has a book out, The Architecture of Learning, which I received a free copy of. I am really excited to read it, and will devote future posts to what I find. 
  • Old School Tool: index cards. By having students write info on index cards, they can literally sort (and resort) the information. This aids retention. For instance, I could have students list conflicts as they rise and fall throughout a novel. One day, we can sort by plot order (when the conflict occurred in the story). The next day, we can sort by importance, using the same information. I was thinking of extending this into a group setting, where each group is responsible for one type of info (i.e. symbols, etc.), and the groups would have to continually reshuffle the info as we progress through the book. This can be displayed on some sort of wall chart etc. (still using the index cards).
  • When we prepare lessons, we do the brain learning we will ask our students to do when we teach the lesson. By the time we teach it, it makes sense, because we have found the data, classified and organized it, considered its value, etc. This is a nice perspective for me to latch on to when I am frustrated - of course it makes sense to me...I made it! Also opens my mind to considering further steps I might need to take to help my students make their own connections.
  • A lot of what we do in the classroom is verbally based - utilize non-verbal forms to challenge and engage them (the non-verbal/spatial part of the brain may be under utilized in certain content areas).
  • Practice without feedback is not helpful. Kevin said that this was the one thing we should all do more often and more consciously - using constant formative assessment to guide students to "proper" learning.
  • Summarizing is a powerful tool. Here's an idea for a daily closure, written in a student's notebook.
Ask them to "fill out" this form: 
List three things you remember/did/liked/didn't like (insert verb here);   
"I learned"; 
"I think"; 
"I plan to" 
I discussed this with Pete on the ride home, about how we can improve students' metacognitive abilities. This might be one easy way.
  • I believe Kevin referenced Gloria Houston (sp?) as having done some excellent work on summarizing
  • You need to "own the downtime"

Second session, "Ways to Grow Professionally"
An excellent conversation about what we as educators have to do (not "can do"). We no longer have a choice, as the tech is there, the kids are there, and we need to be there. That, or be left behind. (FYI: notes and quotes from this one are on my twitter feed.) We also made a Google Doc that captured most of what was discussed.

Andy Marcinek's talk of the "back channel" opened my eyes up as well. The literally idea was using something like Twitter that can capture what is happening during a lecture that you, as the teacher, may not be aware of. For instance, while we were in our round-table, Any projected the stream from the conference (#tmnj11) using Monitter. As we were talking, we could see thoughts and ideas from the rest of the sessions. Some of them made their way into our own conversation. That is fairly powerful collaboration, even if it is/was unintended.

On a more philosophical note, the concept of the back channel happening in our students' brains as we talk away is what grabbed me. I can "visualize" what a Twitter stream of my students' brains might look like: I am pretty sure it would fly by super fast, and I'm pretty sure my "Teacher Tweets" would be few and far between (and certainly not trending). Of all the things a student thinks about, I am pretty sure my teaching is not the most pressing.

So, my question is simple: how do we tap into that back channel? How do we utilize what is there and blend it with the content and skills we need to teach? How do we make our "Teacher Tweets" stay at the top of the list, and not get lost in the Twitterverse?

There is SO much more spinning around my head right now...great conference, great experience, and great people.