Tomorrow is the start of the Innovative Learning Environments Conference in Ohio, and I am so excited. Last year, I was only able to attend a few days, but this year, I’m in for the whole week.
Last year honestly changed my mindset. I wrote about being open to buying an iPhone (which I did), joining Twitter (which I did), and working diligently to incorporate more technology into my classroom (which I did). I took my learning back to the staff in my previous school district and shared everything I could. Hopped up on energy and enthusiasm for bringing cell phones into the classroom and thinking innovatively in times of financial adversity, I was ready to take risks and try new things.
And I was quickly stopped by the brick wall of fear. Fear about what students can do when we give them more access and try to teach them responsible digital citizenship. I was not allowed to try out cell phones in the classroom, which was so unfortunate for the school (which could have become a leader in innovation and technology in the county by taking such risks), the students (who were dying for these opportunities), and for me (who really wanted to do something unique, and was not allowed to do so).
Like the rebel I am, though, I still gave a couple of my very trustworthy class periods the opportunity…In my now famous Butter Battle lesson, I asked certain classes to take their cell phones out and search for information about the Cold War. I gave them a two-minute time limit, and guess what they did? They didn’t start texting, harassing others, or looking at inappropriate websites; they searched for information. Afterwards, for my own information, I asked them how many had sent a text or did something they weren’t supposed to. The response? “I didn’t even think to do that!” They were given a task, they were engaged, they were excited to take those illicit devices out of their pockets, and their learning advanced in that underground experiment I ran.
I also did several Poll Everywhere polls as formative assessments…Guess what happened then? They took the polls, I quickly assessed what needed to happen, I adjusted my lesson, and we moved forward.
What I’m getting at here is that ILE 2011 was mind-blowing to my sensibilities. I left feeling like a true believer in what education could be doing for our students and how technology makes life easier NOT more challenging for educators. In fact, technology can make cash-strapped schools operate more efficiently and save time and energy if we give it a chance to do so.
Another key idea that shifted my mindset was a metaphor I heard last year. I can’t remember if it was Ian Jukes or Will Richardson who said it last year, but one of them compared trainings such as this conference to stretching a rubber band. When educators go to these conferences, they become stretched. It stretches their minds, their openness, their entire teaching paradigm. When the conference has ended, the educator, like the rubber band, will snap right back into old habits if there is no support in place. I keep this idea in mind in all of my professional life. We all need support to stay stretched in everything we do…When we take a risk or try something new and it falls flat on its face, we need someone to help us figure out how to try again, what went wrong, and to let us work through it. Complete shift in the way I approach my job and my role in education.
I have high hopes and expectations that this week is going to be just as mind-blowing and beneficial as last year, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to attend all five days (with my iPad in tow!)