It’s my third time attending the annual conference as a member of the press (sounds so important, right?) courtesy of ASCD. This year we’re in Philadelphia, one of my favorite east coast cities. I arrived early and spent some time wandering around the city, enjoying the beautiful spring weather, historic architecture, and of course, cheesesteaks.
Choosing sessions: balancing what I want to learn with what I need to learn
Today (Saturday) was the official start to the conference, and I decided to take a slightly different approach than in years past. I have a tendency to go to the same types of sessions over and over again: brain-based learning, issues of race and gender in the classroom, poverty and neuroscience, urban education, classroom management, practical learning techniques, meeting the needs of reluctant learners, and creating engaging PD. These are (some of) the issues I am most passionate about and I could listen to presentations on them all day.
But then when the conference is over, I go back to my “real life” and lament the fact that there are boring but important things I need to know more about. Common Core State Standards, anyone? RTI? Yawn. I’m out of the classroom now, and there’s no one forcing me to attend trainings I have little interest in. At first I loved the fact that no one’s subjecting me to “power-pointless” presentations at staff meetings. Then I realized that I’ve got to seek out trainings on these topics on my own time. Oh. And so I find myself on a Saturday afternoon turning down the sessions on creating an engaging learning environment and digging into those concepts that I don’t usually explore on my own.
Buzzwords galore: what’s trending right now in education conferences
Looking through the conference program guide, I am struck by the sheer volume of sessions on anti-bullying measures, including many on creating a safe haven for LGBT students. I don’t recall seeing much of that just a few years ago. Another common theme–one that HAS been prevalent for awhile with ASCD–is the abundance of sessions on best practices in urban schools and addressing the needs of students in poverty.
Other topics which are being addressed over and over this weekend: developing the whole child, common core/curriculum mapping/Understanding by Design integration, differentiated instruction, RTI, instructional rounds, and project-based learning.
Checking out the exhibit hall
I like to skip the 8 am sessions and arrive around 10 am, then stay through til 6:30 pm when the last sessions end and do some networking afterward in the evenings. Today I started off in the exhibit hall.
ASCD tends to attract a wide variety of exhibitors (a far more interesting array than at education technology conferences, where most products and programs are beyond the budget of the classroom teacher and stuff you need to plan to purchase.) At ASCD, almost every major education publisher has a booth, so it’s a great chance to check out the newest books for teachers. I always love to check out the booths for Dinah Zike’s Foldables, Eye on Education, and Stenhouse. There are lots of other companies with instructional supplies on display–hopefully I’ll have a chance later in the weekend to go back and check them out.
Lunch with outstanding young educator award winners
After checking out the exhibit hall, I had a lunch in the press room with ASCD’s outstanding young educator award winners. One of them is Liliana Aguas, a second grade teacher in Berkeley, CA, who also teaches a science methods course for pre-service teachers. She has a passion for project-based learning and hands-on science, and will be writing a guest blog post here on science classroom management. I’m really excited about that because science is my weakest subject area and I’d love to have Liliana share more about the practical aspects of conducting experiments and investigations with young kids.
Session: Using Google Apps to transform learning
In the afternoon, I attended a slew of great presentations. The first was about using Google tools for education. I found this helpful because the focus was not on HOW to use Google Apps (which is a fairly intuitive process that I didn’t need explicit training on) but practical ideas for using Google Apps in education. There are sooo many amazing things you can do that I decided to write a separate post about Google Apps (I think I promised that after the ISTE conference, but seriously, I’m going to do it this week.) In the meantime, you can check out the presentation slides and get the resources shared on Char Shryock’s website.
Session: Why you could be replaced by a computer…and why you won’t be
This is a topic of great interest to me (I already reflected on it here and have done some presentations on the topic, as well.) Bruce Taylor was an engaging presenter and shared some important information about how our world is changing. He told us that his first computer in the early 80’s had 64KB of memory. That’s really stunning when you consider that the iPhone many of us keep in our pockets has 16GB. The implication for education is that we can no longer afford to focus on lower-level skills that students can learn and practice online: our job as educators is to do the things that computers cannot…supporting students in developing creativity, collaboration skills, global awareness, interpersonal skills, etc. The human connection can never be replaced.
Session: Implementing common core state standards in elementary schools
I did slip out early to attend a concurrent session on CCSS by Kristen Raitzer and Tracy Barber of Jefferson County Public Schools. I wish I had gotten there earlier, as it was really practical and there was some great info shared. The presenters cautioned against purchasing any program that claims to be fully aligned with CCSS, as the standards have not been out long enough for most companies to have done this. They urge us to evaluate programs for ourselves and never rely on a teacher’s manual or pre-packaged curriculum to determine what we teach. (Amen!) In general today, I heard a lot of skepticism about how much money companies are making from CCSS and once again, profits are being prioritized instead of what’s best for students and teachers. More on CCSS later in the weekend.
Session: Putting differentiated instruction and response to intervention together
This was a rather dry topic made interesting and relevant by the presenters, Susan D. Allan and Yvonne Goddard from Texas A&M University. Their guiding question was: How can teachers’ lives be made better by integrating the two concepts? They explained that RTI can be seen as a subset of DI–one that focuses on meeting the needs of struggling learners. In fact, differentiation can be a Tier One intervention. The presenters caution that there’s no single way to implement and there is no “one size fits all” approach: teachers need the freedom to make choices. The focus should be on quality, effective instruction based in quality curriculum. A differentiated classroom won’t have every task differentiated, but it will be happening regularly, and teachers will be persistent in trying plan b, plan c, etc. if things don’t work out. That’s exactly what RTI asks teachers to do…and it’s the mark of an effective teacher in general. If you want to learn more, handouts will be made available here.
This was the highlight of the day for me: getting to meet people in my personal learning network (PLN) that I had previously interacted with only online, and connecting with others that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting before. Sponsored by ASCD and Scilearn with support from Edutopia, the Twitter meet up was held at The Field House. The food was great–better than the average bar food–and when I left after 2.5 hours, there was still a large crowd. There was a really friendly vibe at the tweet up and lots of productive networking. It was especially wonderful to meet cybraryman1 in person and thank him for creating such an extensive collection of resources for educators. (Jerry’s site has driven tens of thousands of visitors to mine over the last seven or eight years.)
Though Twitter is not my preferred social media network (I like creating dialogue on my Facebook page better), it is THE best platform for staying connecting at conferences and keeping up with what others are learning in various sessions. I’m on Twitter almost non-stop at events like these and often learn more through reading tweets than I do in presentations. And as a side note–it was interesting that not one person mentioned Google+ today, even though many of us are on it. Facebook, occasionally. Twitter, constantly. But Google+ (and for that matter, Pinterest), never came up. I’m definitely going to start some conversations around this tomorrow to see what others’ thoughts are on this. I’m a big fan of Pinterest and am wondering who else is using it to share teaching resources.
I’m looking forward to a general session by the author of “The Checklist Manifesto” (a fantastic book I read a few years back), lunch with the authors of some ASCD books (including Fisher & Frey and Carol Tomlinson), and some cool sessions on tech integration, student motivation, and curriculum mapping. I’ll write a day 2 reflection post at the end, but I’ll be tweeting out the most salient points all throughout the day.
How you can participate
Follow the ASCD12 hashtag on Twitter. Or, attend the conference for free virtually! You can view live streams of 22 sessions over three days, featuring presenters such as Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Charlotte Danielson, Atul Gawande, Robyn Jackson, and Doug Reeves. There’s also a Q&A with presenters during which you can ask questions just like the live audience. And if you don’t have time this weekend, no worries! You can access the archived recordings for all sessions until September 2012.