I sense a change…

A few weeks ago I had the honor of attending and facilitating a Minds On Media session at the 3-day OTF conference Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century. This summer version was a repeat of a conference in February that filled up in minutes (I wrote about that day here).

The conference had and amazing vibe. An hour after starting there was an active twitter back channel conversation and a collaborative google doc sharing ideas. There were less technical difficulties and the internet worked well. The buzz was palpable.

I have a few theories about why the atmosphere at the conference was so wonderful. I think OTF along with Peter and Brenda have created an amazing package including Garfield Gini-Newman covering critical thinking, Will Richardson doing personal learning networks and then a Minds On Media event to wrap up and personalize the learning. This combination seems to me magical.

Maybe it also had something to do with the timing. Many participants were on a waiting list from February. It was summer so folks who were there were really interested in attending and brought their own computers instead of work ones.

Whatever the reason, the vibe was amazing and the learning productive. The participants took amazing risks and we really pushed our learning.

Life of a Pedagogista

A pedagog… what?
This past weekend I had the honor of being a pedagogista for the Minds On Media session at the OTF Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century.

I’ve written about Minds On Media, the brainchild of Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen, before. I am a big fan of this model of professional development. Created for ECOO, there are multiple stations around one large room. Teachers go wherever they wish. They learn whichever technologies they are interested in. If you get bored, you move. If you find something you want to go deeper into you stay at that station the whole time. It allows for teachers to choose tools that are useful and accessible to them and connect it to the learning goals they are trying to facilitate in their classrooms. It provides all the things we like to talk about being good for our students; differentiation, multiple access points, choosing the best tool to reach the goal and the teacher as a facilitator of learning instead of the holder of all knowledge. The day I co-lead a mini-Minds On Media session with a group of educators I learned more from participants than I “taught” for sure. Very collaborative.

Brenda and Peter have written about the role of the pedagogista here. Basically, our role was to circulate and help teachers step back from the technology and have discussions about the critical thinking, developing learning networks and inquiry-based learning. In addition, when someone wanted a little one-on-one time we helped out.

Throughout the day I had some great conversations with amazing educators. Many of them started with the educator saying “This is all so awesome, I just don’t know where to start”. After a full day with Garfield Gini-Newman around critical thinking and another day with Will Richardson doing the personal learning network blitz, we had all seen so many excellent ideas, tools and strategies. The struggle was to choose a starting point that fit for them. The question “what are the learning goals you would like to work on?” usually led to a discussion that allowed the teacher to narrow down their choices to a few tools. Then some more investigation allowed them to choose the right tool(s) and get started creating their lessons, focusing in on the critical thinking they wanted to reach. I learned more in these discussions than I have from many other professional development sessions combined. The previous day with Will Richardson had opened a whole new world for many of us in the room, and the value on networked learning was incredible. The room was buzzing.

There were also conversations that were just pure fun… One teacher was looking into beefing up her learning network and wanted to start blogging before she went to China to teach for the summer. She wasn’t a facebook user but wanted to share photos and experiences with family and friends while abroad. At first we started to create a blogger account, quickly questioning whether or not it would be available in China (unsure if Google is accessible freely in China?). She knew that she would have email, but unsure of which social media sites would be available. That led us to a posterous blog where she should simply email a photo or blog entry and it would be posted. As we wrapped up updating her twitter profile with a picture, I started to get that nagging feeling… Great fun, but we needed to get back to the critical thinking… 🙂 Just as I was thinking this, she said… “so… I could do this with my English class. They could…”. We then started into a great conversation about how blogging could be used in the classroom.

I’m not sure how many educators get a chance to observe classes or sit along side a student while they learn, but this day was absolutely fascinating. Having the time and purpose to observe and question was wonderful for my own personal learning. One thing I began to notice was that after about an hour or so, teachers started to navigate to the tables in the centre of the room or settle in at a media station. After browsing the stations they either went to a place they could begin to design, build and construct with support people around them or settled into a station to go deeper into a media. Mali Bickley nicknamed these areas “creation stations”. This is ideal in my mind. How many times have you left a PD session and had all sorts of great ideas, but never found the time to actually get started. These teachers left with that project started. The biggest hurdle overcome.

Lots of great educators have blogged about this OTF session.

* Peter Skillen has the entire twitter feed from the session here
* Brenda Sherry blogged about it here
* Barbara McLaughlin
* Colin Jagoe
* Doug Peterson
* Danika Barker

Thank you Brenda and Peter for a wonderful opportunity and weekend!