Category Archives: professional learning
You spend a lot of money to attend a conference for professional learning. You get flights lined up, hotel, transportation, etc. Then you go to the event. You spend the first hour trying to find the registration desk. You wait in line for a half-hour to get your badge. Then you plop down on the floor and start looking over the schedule guide to see what sessions you’ll attend.
There’s so many choices, it’s almost overwhelming. It’s like walking into Costco without a shopping list. You go in wanting one thing, and you come out owning a 3-lb lobster claw that you didn’t know you needed. Once you do decide on a session, you stand in line for 15 minutes hoping to get in. Others are over capacity and you can’t get in, which causes you to speed walk 1.2 miles down the convention hall only to walk in late to a session and find the dreaded seat in the very middle of everyone.
After several hours of this, you are ready for an early happy hour. You see people laughing and having fun, but you’re not sure what they are laughing about and if they are in fact having fun. At about 2pm, you find a local watering hole with fellow attendees trying to hide their badge of shame around their necks as you are all clearly failures.
Or are you?
I would argue that you are not the failure, but instead that the conference event failed you. In its desire to pack the house with thousands of people, the large conference has lost focus on what’s most important: the attendee experience. Sure there are amazing speakers from all over and great content, but the UX (user experience) is severely lacking. Why go stand in line for a movie you might not want to watch?
On day 2, you wake up with a headache both from the early happy hour and the brain fog that comes from being overwhelmed. You go to the keynote, hoping for some inspiration. However, you are now “cattled” in and out of a 5000-seat arena where you end up skipping sitting down because you forgot to charge your laptop. So, you find a spot on the floor next to one of the 4 plugs in the 30,000 sq. ft. room. The keynote speaker is good (they usually are, to be fair) but now what? Do you engage in conversation with someone? Do you rush out the door before the closing remarks in the hopes of not being a part of the herd?
All of these above scenarios have been part of my experiences attending large conferences in the past. I feel like I spend much of my time being shepherded around or looking for the next session, but rarely walk away with my money’s worth in terms of knowledge and experiences. In fact, the best learning usually happens in conversations and dialogues with colleagues or things posted on the conference hashtag.
With all this in mind, in 2012, we created an event called iPadpalooza. We didn’t want to call it an “iConference” because we really wanted it to be something quite different. We wanted it to be a learning festival. A place to experience something different as an attendee. A place where the things that matter the most, the interactions, discussions, and collaboration are the focal point of the event.
Flash forward to present day.
Taking all past experiences, both good and bad, when it comes to professional learning, we are attempting something, well…different. The event formerly known as iPadpalooza is now LearnFestATX (after all, it’s about the learning, not a device). Last year, rather than just changing the name and moving on, we decided to beta test some new concepts in professional learning with a much smaller audience. Following that beta test, we discovered what worked and what didn’t. Taking just the parts that worked and adding in some of our own magic, we have created what we feel will be an event from the future, for the future.
Our motto this year is “Ready Learner One” along with a retro video game theme (sometimes the past can best prepare us for the future, right?). Many of the things we are trying are still top-secret, but here’s just a few highlights of things you could experience as an attendee this summer:
Three Different Perspectives to Learning:
As someone attending, you’ll experience learning in three different ways. The first way is the most traditional in terms of learning as part of a large group (during opening and closing events) or a medium-sized group (during interactive and make-n-take sessions). The second way is learning as part of a collaborative team either with our Teacher Shark Tank or the APPmazing Race. The third way is learning as an individual by reflecting in our Mindfulness Lounge, participating in our digital petting zoo, lunchtime interactions, or attempting to win our massive easter egg hunt (details revealed at event).
While the traditional conference puts featured speakers in certain rooms and only for certain times, we want our featured speakers to be much more part of the event. They should be learners too. As an attendee, you should have multiple opportunities to interact with them as well. Sure, there will be some scheduled sessions, but now with our new Mindfulness Lounge and Expert’s Lounge, you’ll have opportunities to sit, relax and reflect with some of the top educational experts around. Our featured speakers will also be playing multiple roles in some of the experiences that are taking place, from Impractical EdTechsters to the Ed Tech Family Feud to a Poetry Slam, you’ll see these folks in roles that stretch their thinking and yours.
A Different Kind of Keynote:
I can’t give away too much here, but for those that attended our beta-test last year with the “Silent Disco” presentation style, we’ll be doing that on a much larger scale during our opening session on June 12. Also, we’ll be bringing back our “What’s HOT in Ed Tech” challenge for the closing ceremonies. Let’s just say it involves some new ways to “spice” up a talk to a large crowd. We’re also super-pumped to have Manoush Zomorodi as our day 2 Keynote speaker. These large groups events will have tons of audience engagement as well as boat-loads of door prizes.
Dive Deeper Before the Madness:
While the main LearnFestATX runs on June 12th & 13th, we will also be having our 3-hour deep dive PreFest LearnShops on June 11th. No more fighting for a spot or a seat. Just buy your ticket, select your sessions, and you are guaranteed a seat.
In summary, I’ve always been of the belief that learning is an active sport. Sometimes that’s a team sport, sometimes it’s an individual sport. But the bottom line is, you get out of it what you put into it. This is true of either a traditional conference or our event. The biggest difference is, at our event, you don’t have to try to seek out those learning opportunities. At our event, they seek you out.
I hope that you’ll join us this summer at LearnFestATX. We do believe that learning as a team can be powerful too, so we offer great group discounts if you want to come hang out with colleagues or meet new ones. With our event, you have the ultimate level of voice & choice. Something we want our students to have as well, so why not model it in a professional learning environment?
Come see what all the fuss is about this summer in Austin:
Hint for those of you that read all the way to the bottom of this page. Try and reach out to a featured speaker to get a 20% off discount!
Editor’s note: LearnFestATX was recently listed as one of EdSurge’s top Ed Tech events to attend in 2019!
Whenever I get the opportunity to work with a team of educators for a day, I’m always excited for what the day will bring. Being an attendee at many a workshop as well, I know that there is a sense of dread when it comes to “icebreakers”. I’ve got a few up my sleeve that seem to always be a big hit, but lately I’ve been looking for something different.
If you know anything about me, I usually look for inspiration outside of education. As some of you witnessed with the Silent Disco Presenting at last year’s LearnFestATX (coming back in 2019 too!), that idea was “derived” from a silent disco dance event at ACLFest here in Austin. This summer, my family and I got to go on a trip of lifetime and traveled on a 14-day Alaskan cruise. We enjoyed the sights, the scenery, and especially all the fun and interactive activities on board the ship. I befriended the cruise director (a former educator and owner of my dream job) and spoke with him about all the ways he tries to engage his audience. He shared a bunch of different games and interactive activities that would be easily applicable to a classroom or professional development setting. Games like “Majority Rules” where the right answer isn’t as important as picking the answer of the majority introduces some hilarious responses and creative thinking.
One event that my family and I repeatedly tried to compete in was the Team Trivia competitions. Some were music based, some were general, but all of them were fun, in large part because of the engaging MC and the collaborative thinking of our team. I started to wonder if this might be a good way to have a team of diverse thinkers work together and quickly get to know each other rather than the traditional icebreaker.
Last week, I was lucky enough to have two opportunities to try out my theory. I knew I was going to meet with a dynamic team of educators in Illinois and later in the week was playing co-host to my own teams’ beginning of the year retreat. What a perfect opportunity for some team-building while also breaking the ice! What follows is a step-by-step run down of the activity with some takeaways if you would like to try this for your team, school, classroom or family!
As I didn’t want this to be solely random trivia, it had to include some information about the group. Things like “What is your greatest fear?” and “Would you rather be a little late or WAY early?” were some of the questions I sent out in advance in this “Pre-flection” survey. (Here’s a sample) While much of the data was easily captured into graphs to use, some of the open-ended questions take quite a bit of data digging to suss out which are the top responses.
I also created the following trivia answer sheet (Link to Team Trivia PDF). I know you could also do this digitally, but as the purpose of this was more team-building and collaboration, teams were instructed to “use your noodle, not your google.”
Finally, for the trivia portion, I printed a couple of different cards or “life-lines”. One was a “Text a friend” card and the other was a “Google” card. Teams were instructed that they could use these cards one time and for one question only. If they didn’t use the card, they received a bonus half-point for each card. It was interesting to watch teams use strategy around when or if to use a lifeline card.
Also, just for fun, I created a playlist that included the songs they chose when answering the “my go-to karaoke song is…” on the Pre-flection survey and had their songs playing as they entered the room.
Create your team
For this challenge, I didn’t want teams to just be people you know or members of your campus. In fact, in some ways, this would put your team at a disadvantage if you knew everyone on your team really well. As the last sections were about the group and their answers, it actually is better if you have a more diverse group so that you can poll your team on what they answered. I awarded bonus points for creative team names (and told them to cater to the judge as it was all subjective 🙂
The Trivia Section
There are tons of websites that have trivia out there, so don’t rack your brain coming up with questions. I looked at pop-culture, technology, current events, and school related trivia as my go-to questions. I also tried to pull in some “local” trivia for some of the questions (about the town, school district). For the audio clue questions I included song samples from their Pre-flection Survey for “go to karaoke song choice” and they could earn a point each for listing artist, song title, and year it was released.
Finally, while you could totally do this verbally, I liked having the visual of the question on a screen so I built all my slides in Keynote. This is helpful in large spaces where they might not be able to hear you and it reinforces the idea that we understand and remember much more if we hear AND see it. I then copied all my questions slides and repeated the questions at the end of the deck with answer slides in between when we got to the scoring part.
The “Survey Says…” Section
This is a “Family Feud” like section where the team is trying to pick out what they think the number one answer is of the group.
I awarded 5 points for the top choice and down to 1 point for the 5th choice. A word of caution here, when building your Pre-flection survey, shoot for one-word answers as it makes tabulating top responses easier to find. Some fun questions here are “What’s your number 1 place to visit on your bucket list?” or “What was your favorite cereal as a kid?”
Remember, it’s not about what you answer, it’s about what you think the group’s top answer will be.
The 50/50 Section
These questions were based on a series of “would you rather” questions at the end of their Pre-flection survey. Questions like “Would you rather lose your hearing or your vision?” or “Would you rather go on a cruise with a spouse or your friends?” were some fun ones and prompted quite a bit of laughter and discussion. Again, don’t re-invent the wheel here. I found this list and many others on the inter-webs to pull these questions from. For the teams, they had a two-part answer on their scoring sheet. First they had to decide what the majority of the people in the room chose, then they had to guess a percentage for how many chose that as their answer. (i.e. “Lose Hearing…90%) When we get to the scoring section, I awarded points for those that got it right AND got within 5 percentage points in either direction.
After all the trivia was completed, I awarded bonus points for those that didn’t use their lifelines and for team name. I then randomly distributed the answer sheets to other groups to do the scoring round. Note that competitive teams can really hung up on some answers. For the most part, if it was close to the original answer, I would allow it (this is supposed to be fun people).
This part should be super engaging. Ask the audience to shout out what you think the answer is and reveal the answers on the screen with some suspense. It’s always amazing to me how competitive teams can get and how disappointed they are when they get an answer wrong.
All in all, these team trivia contests were a hit at both events. It allowed the teams to get to know each other in a competitive and collaborative format. It took about 6-8 hours to do all the set-up (creating the google form, the answer form, gathering the data, creating the slide deck) and the actual event took an hour. Now that I’ve done this a couple of times, I can re-use my slide deck and just change some of the questions based on the group so set-up won’t be as labor intensive. Also, I’ve shared the Pre-flection survey and answer sheet in this blog, so feel free to borrow and remix it yourself. Would love to hear from you if you try it with your team. Tag me on twitter @mrhooker or comment on this post!
I am lucky enough to work with amazing students every day in my district. That said, every now and then, some of them really stand out as change-makers in the world. This post is about a pair of brothers and their inspiration approach to educating the world in the realm of robotics using a low-cost way that “up-cycles” existing everyday materials to build their creations. Please enjoy and share the information below so we can help these guys make their dream come true!
I first met Rohit and his brother Sidharth a couple of years ago after they won the Student Start-up Competition at SXSWedu. They are both Westlake High School students and, for the past several years, taken their love of robotics and combined it with an altruistic desire to help educate youth all over the world in a low-cost way. My first impression was that these boys seem wise well beyond their years and I had to keep reminding myself I was speaking to teenagers, not adults.
For more information about their company, I asked co-founder Rohit Srinivasan to give me an overview on his company’s philosophy and mission:
Trashbots is a low-cost robotics kit with an artistic twist. Our vision has developed from multiple years of teaching STEM in the US, Mexico, Congo and India where its founders have taught 1000+ students ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade. We observed kids need better problem-solving and creativity skills. STEM kits have been seen as a solution, but have limited impact because they require major infrastructure, and are expensive.
Right away, I love the way he his tackling a problem that isn’t unique to just schools in the U.S., but around the world. Here’s how he’s doing that in an affordable way:
Did I mention these are students? They have been doing this for many years on a volunteer basis mainly using their vacation time to travel to India and help teach kids in orphanages learn how to create and program robots. And by the looks of things, they are just getting started…
Since its founding, Trashbots has spent the last 18 months developing the platform and seen strong validation from students, teachers and education administrators. We have taught 1000+ kids across Peru (at the invitation of Education Ministry), Indian orphanages, Mexican colonias, and in schools in the US in urban and rural settings. We have conducted teacher workshops at TCEA, ISTE, and SXSWedu. Solely from word-of-mouth marketing we have pre-orders for 750 kits from 60 schools in 5 continents. In recognition of this traction, we were honored to be selected as a top 10 2017 Edtech startup by the Global Edtech Startup Association, named one of top 15 innovators reshaping Texas by Texas Monthly, and featured in the Statesman, Austin Inno and Silicon Hills News.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of student ideas and pitches in our student entrepreneur course at Westlake. This is different. These young men came up with this on their own several years ago and have been growing with a grass-roots style of marketing and engaging leaders from all over the world. Their company is driven by three tenets:
As they are tackling this global challenge in non-traditional ways, it’s appropriate that they are securing funding via crowd-sourcing. They are kicking off a campaign on Indiegogo to officially capture the interest in their platform.
Here’s where you come in. The way crowd-sourcing works, the more people they can get “interested” via email, the more likely they will get featured on Indiegogo and get funding. Do me a favor and sign-up (for free) to support these kids and their very impactful dream of providing all students with access to learning robotics and coding.
Please visit their Indiegogo pre-launch page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trashbots-low-cost-stem-with-an-artistic-twist/coming_soon or their website at www.trashbots.org. And if you could, share this article with other educators and colleagues that you know would support the great work they are doing (and tweet them at @trashbotsorg!)
From the minds of youth….comes our future. Show them some love my fellow educators!
Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a large faction of educators. While we respect the way you have run the training methods of your organization in the past, it is time for a change. As such, we are holding your teachers’ learning hostage. Their learning is safe and unharmed at this time, however, if you would like to release their learning, you must meet our list of demands when it comes to how you provide training for adults. Failure to meet these demands will result in the wide-spread lack of professional growth and lack of improvement in pedagogical practice by your staff.
It doesn’t hurt to spend a little energy and effort promoting professional learning and getting teachers excited for it. Come up with a theme and make it feel like an exclusive “members-only” type event. While some of them may come because they “have to”, it helps start the training off with excitement and energy. One example would be to send out a video or graphic that highlights the training in a fun way. Here’s one that takes a “Point Break” theme to make learning about High Quality Assessments just a tad more exciting:
Building on the buzz and excitement from your promotion, take some time to create an atmosphere for your training event. This can be as simple as having some appropriately-themed music to adding some simple decorations around the tables. When someone walks into your room, they should be excited about being there, not dreading it. Know that many educators are entering your room with the expectation that this will just be another 6 hours of “sit n’ get”, which is why it’s important to create that exciting first impression when they walk in. Have fun activity for them that involves more than just making a name card like “tweet what your first job ever was” or “find a picture of what super hero best represents you”. This will give you as the trainer an opportunity to connect with the attendees as well as give you some material that you can use later.
Research shows that hunger affects the brain and cognitive development. While we know funding is always tight and food is the first thing to get cut, this is a list of demands. If you want your staff to learn, make sure they are not hungry. This doesn’t mean you have to provide a 5-course meal, it can be as simple as a basket of chocolate or some protein-heavy snack mix. Having protein in your diet not only creates better avenues for neurotransmitters to help with learning and retention, it increases happiness according to this study.
And this doesn’t mean have 10 minutes set aside for walking around and adding notes to those giant sticky chart papers on the walls. Take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. Would you attend your own professional learning? “Fun” can sometimes be a negative word when it comes to learning and it shouldn’t be. Making learning fun, even for adults, will not only increase engagement in the learning, it will keep them coming back for more.
Having periods of movements or “brain breaks” throughout your training not only provide some much needed breaks from what is being input into the brain, research shows that movement facilitates brain plasticity (essentially the science of having the brain learn something new). Doing a brief improv activity or having your attendees move and stretch increases oxygen flow to the brain as well as this plasticity. A side-effect of doing a group improv activity is that it creates an environment of trust and risk-taking as well as collegiality between staff that might not normally be working along side one another.
How many times have we heard that adults shouldn’t lecture children all day? Do we think that what’s best with pedagogy wouldn’t also apply to what’s best with andragogy? Who’s doing the work and talking during professional learning? If it’s more the instructor than then the attendees, you need to rethink how you are engaging your adult learners. When outlining your day for professional learning, try and employ somewhat of a “chunk n’ chew” method to the day. Break the day up into 20-30 minute segments that involving both introduction of a new skill, but also time for attendees to try it out and discuss ideas for application.
Taking into account the demands for engagement, movement, and making things more student-led, you must create opportunities for staff to collaborate on an idea or solve a problem. Providing time for collaboration in your professional learning allows opportunities for staff to discuss best practices around a topic or share strategies around a particular pedagogical problem.
Learning new things and skills takes a lot of cognitive ability. Having a training where all you do is show a series of new tools or tricks can be overwhelming to the brain and makes it nearly impossible to internalize all of it. As mentioned in demand #6, creating “chunk n’ chew” learning opportunities throughout the training will give staff an opportunity to try out the new skill as well as plan for application. Taking time to plan for application of the skill when it is learned, has a greater chance to translate into actual practice in the classroom.
We try to differentiate for learners in our classrooms, why not do the same for staff? Every single person comes into a training session with a different set of prior skills, knowledge, and preferred learning methods. When planning your professional learning, you need to allow opportunities for both the struggling learners and the high-flyers to be successful. This can be as simple as sharing your outline for the day ahead of time on Google docs or a website so that some can go at their own pace, while others can revisit a newly learned strategy.
Our final demand is that you provide some time for staff to reflect on what they have learned. When planning the professional learning experience for your staff, make sure there is time to reflect throughout the day. This doesn’t mean just spend the last 5 minutes reflecting on something they learned that day, but rather actual pockets of time throughout the day where they can reflect in the medium of their choosing. After all, educational reformer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
We feel our list of demands are not unreasonable. Please secure these demands prior to your next professional learning event or your teachers’ learning will suffer the consequences.
The E.B.P.L. (Educators for Better Professional Learning)