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I am in the midst of preparing three sessions for the New England League of Middle Schools(NELMS) Conference…of course I decided to procrastinate and write a blog post about them instead of planning them. Now if you are a twitterer I am sure you are familiar with the “unconferences,” the Edcamps, and all the other more “progressive conferences.” Recently there have been posts written about why the progressive conferences are all the rage, and why traditional conferences are dead. Right now, I am still a fan of traditional conferences. I know that folks who have attended the same unconferences and progressive conferences like Educon that I did had a phenomenal time, and got so much out of it…but for some reason I didn’t. They aren’t for me at this point in my teaching journey. I enjoy sitting and listening to someone who knows more about something than I do talk about their ideas…just like a TED talk. I have found sitting in sessions with 40 people having a “conversation” to be frustrating. I have attended conferences to specifically be in the presence of people who I thought were going to speak, and instead listened to everyone in their audience have a “conversation.” Maybe the problems that people have with traditional conferences aren’t the sage on the stage set-up, but the fact that the sages are usually boring, powerpoint pushing presenters.
The three sessions I am doing at NELMS are:
1-The First Day of School
In reverse order…2.Go is a session I have done about four times. Each time I have had huge technological problems…hopefully undetected by the audience. It is meant to just be a quick speed dating of tech tools…nothing fancy… “so you heard about all these tech tools teachers are using? Well, here is some quick background on them, if one connects with you go home and take it on a date for an evening.” For this one, I don’t need to plan the presentation, I will do a quick poll before the session starts to figure out what people want hear about, and just go with it. Yes, I am one of those freaky people with passwords to just about every 2.0-type of site and have used them with my kids, so with a couple clicks we can be on the site and looking at student examples as well. I am hoping to make it more than just here’s some tools, but put the use of them into some perspective of why and how we should be using them. In the end, this session will be less about the tools and more about change.
“10 Questions” I did it once at a traditional conference to a packed room and received incredible feedback. I did it once at an unconference to six people who probably didn’t need to hear it and well…I don’t think I changed their lives that day. Looking back, it might be because I didn’t stick to my storyline (explanation coming up). It is simply a list of ten questions that I use when planning a unit. Background on each, images, videos, and examples of the questions in “action,” and how applying the question changes the unit–from student performance to simply enhancing the fun factor. Originally…way back when, I started with a single question that I would ask myself at the end of planning each unit, then for years I had three, then the list kind of grew to an unwieldy length of 25. I cut out the dead weight, combined some, deleted questions that were close enough to be considered duplicates, and was left with ten. Honestly I was down to 14, and decided “ten questions” sounded better. Based on the feedback and emails I received after my first time doing it, I might have to say that it is probably one of the best hours I ever had as a teacher. Hopefully I can reproduce that same feeling in April at NELMS.
The last session I am preparing for is the one I am most excited about and have never done before called, “The First Day of School.” Coincidentally, Rich Digirolamo, interviewed by my kids back in November, asked three questions in his latest blog post:
- What are you doing that is so radically different than anyone else?
- Why hasn’t that “crazy” great idea come to fruition?
- Isn’t it time to keep people excited about what you have to offer?
One thing I do radically different than most people is the first day of school. It is a series of activities, all of which were “crazy” ideas that I had that I used to do separately, but now string them all together on our first day of school. I have written some quick posts about my first day activities on this blog, but it is something that really needs to be experienced. My session won’t be me talking about the activities, the first half of the session will be me doing the first day with the teachers. I am going to tweak it so that everything applies to the teachers, as they start a new way of thinking about their first days. Then I am going to break down everything I did and why–there are a million subtle things I do, and 100’s of non-verbal gestures made. It is why a blog post or simply me talking about it just can’t do it justice. It is not just what is done, it is how it is done.
I think from the first seconds of my session, people will realize that my first day is radically different. It makes kids want to come back for day 2, it gets kids excited about what “I have to offer.” While planning for the session I started to think of other things that I do that would be considered “radically different.” For Rich’s questions above…pause here and re-read…what would your answers be? I can see how we can get stuck on #2. It is easy to blame others for not allowing you to bring your crazy ideas to fruition, isn’t it? I know that I am in the midst of a huge mental block in getting some of my radically different ideas done this year because it is so easy for me to blame some parents for getting in the way. It is easy to blame them, and simply take out the textbook. Also, my system is in the process of creating “consistency” across classes and schools…not an environment that nourishes radically different ideas so it’s easy to use that as an excuse as well.
“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
I want each kid to have a radically different experience because radically different ideas will be needed to solve the problems that don’t yet exist. If we want kids to be able to solve those future problems, don’t we need to model, foster, encourage, and engage them in thinking radically different? Don’t we need to be radically different? That will be the underlying theme that will run through my three sessions. That will be the backbone of the storyline for each. They aren’t sessions about using tech, planning lessons, or first day activities. They are sessions that are designed to give the participants that first shove, to take the first step, to being radically different.
So what do you do that is so radically different? Again…what do you do that is so radically different?
Stop…don’t shy away from answering. Share. I would like some examples of something you are doing, or want to do. It could just be a small thing, something that might go totally unnoticed. Please don’t shy away from answering. In my sessions I am going try and get people to be radically different. Take a first step in the comments, most people who read blogs don’t leave comments…please be radically different and leave a comment on this one 😉