Yesterday, I had the honor of presenting at the Indiana Connected Educators (ICE) conference. An all-educator organized event, this conference truly placed the learning needs of teachers at the center of every decision. The sessions included a great mix of technology, pedagogy, and instructional coaching topics. Throughout the two day event, organizers planned social events, networking opportunities, as well as a balance of information consumption and active creation.
In chatting with Tim Wilhelmus (@twilhelmus), one of the organizers, two key points kept resurfacing: the desire to ensure that everyone felt comfortable learning, and the acknowledgement that he viewed the conference as a large-scale opportunity to ignite a new spark in the individuals who attend. Considering Tim’s comments in light of some of the literature that I have recently read, I appreciated his desire to create what Gee (2008) would refer to as Opportunity to Learn. Through his careful planning, Tim and his colleagues had created a low stress, yet high intake environment that created optimal conditions for learning. Further, the nature and structure of the accepted sessions provided enactive experiences on which teachers could build new mental schema (Bandura, 1986) to support future instruction.
Tim’s concept of “igniting a spark” reminded me of Shepherd, Patzelt, and Haynie’s (2010) notion of entrepreneurial spirals. When individuals get new ideas, they try to perpetuate those ideas throughout an organization by initiating a “deviation-amplifying loop” (p. 59). This loop then serves as a means to spread the new idea throughout the organization. However, this is where I started to wonder: what is the spark that might be spreading and how might it improve student learning?
Though only half-way through the conference, Tim and his team have already started brainstorming for next year. In addition to expressing a desire to bring more leaders and different voices to the event, last night he asked a group of us what else we might suggest to improve the next conference.
“No apps in the titles of sessions.” I blurted out.
Immediately, the group rejected the idea. Several different arguments flew around the table from comments that people “love the spectacle” to the reality that teachers really want resources to take back to their classrooms. They further argued that session titles with apps and numbers - especially odd ones - guarantees an audience. Apparently, one of the most heavily attended sessions at an event a few years ago was 101 Apps in 30 Minutes. Tim explained that while he did not learn anything about how to use any of the individual apps, the presenter wowed the audience and provided an excellent spreadsheet of resources that ignited not just a spark but a relative firebomb of new ideas.
Several hours, and several cups of coffee, later, this idea keeps nagging at me. I understand the conversation from last night, but how might we create these ideal conditions for professional learning and ignite that spark while shifting the conversation towards deeper learning and systemic change? What if every session had to address the ways in which students might be empowered to develop their voice, engage in meaningful work, wrestle with complex problems, and follow their curiosities?
Monica Burns, one of the spotlight speakers from this year’s event and a contributor to last night’s conversation, gave me a copy of her new book, Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom. In the introduction, she challenges her readers to "(1) turn students into creators, (2) honor students’ curiosity, and (3) provide opportunities for collaboration” (p. 3). Throughout the book, she highlights the importance of capturing student voice, creating authentic learning opportunities, and providing students with global connections. Following her suggestions, and acknowledging Tim’s conference marketing prowess, imagine a conference packed with sessions like:
- 9 Ways to Ignite Student Curiosity
- 17 Strategies to Foster Student Collaboration
- 11 Skills that Students Need NOW to Become Global Citizens
- 13 Steps to Help Students Develop their Voice and Identity
Personally, I would like to propose 101 Apps that DON’T Address the Social Justice Issue of the Digital Divide. I can only hope that I might get a chance to present it.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
Burns, M. (2017). Tasks before apps: Designing rigorous learning in a tech-rich classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Gee, J. P. (2008). A sociocultural perspective on opportunity to learn. In P. A. Moss, D. C. Pullin, J. P. Gee, E. H. Haertel, & L. J. Young (Eds.), Assessment, equity, and opportunity to learn. Cambridge.
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