Friday, March 25, 2011

Five Perspectives on the ASCD Conference

 The Moscone Center in San Francisco is packed to the gills with educators.  For the next three days, I’m attending the ASCD annual conference.  Some of the sessions are going to be webcasted, so you can check them out here.

On Friday night, attendees were treated to smooth Jazz and Chinese food at the Welcome Reception.  I met five attendees there, just at random, and was treated to five very different takes on the conference.

Ms. Thomas might be the kind of person one would expect to see at an education conference.  She is an elementary teacher from Florida.  She is here to explore more about the Whole Child movement.  Ms. Thomas sees the community of education being a triangle of connections between the child, parent, and teachers.  “We are all together in this goal of helping the child lean and perform,” she said.

She is fascinated by the surge of technology that has occurred in her thirty-year career.  “We’re a new school, so there was lots of money there to get us set up right,” she explains.  “You name it, we’ve got it.”  Ms. Thomas has embraced her role as a digital immigrant, to use the terms coined by Marc Prensky.  Many of the tools she is using to facilitate her children’s’ learning are tools that she is less familiar with than they are.  “’Sit down with me, Ms. Thomas’ the children will say to me.  ‘I’ll show you how.’”  She loves being a learner together with her children.

Michael isn’t an educator at all.  After a career with HP, he now works for Nelson Education, a textbook and digital content publisher.  I asked Michael when he thought print would die, forever replaced by digital readers.  “I don’t know if printed book will every be fully replaced,” he replied.  He went on to say that television didn’t kill radio (despite the claim by the Buggles)...

Computers haven’t killed television.  He sees a future that has room for digital and analog books. 

Emily is a principal who is here on her school’s Spring Break.  She is focused on Response to Intervention (RtI).    She sees her teachers using the techniques and strategies to help their children every day in the classroom, but the school has not been engaging in formal discussions about the RtI concept, and as such, they do not yet have a comprehensive plan.  “I was at Dominican University watching some of our student teachers engaged in mock interviews.  When they were asked about RtI, they couldn’t answer the question,” she explained.  One of her goals is to be able to facilitate professional development at her school so that their work on RtI becomes more formal and systematic. 

Emily has a lot of hope that her work with her teachers will bear fruit.  They are already doing some great work as they collaborate together about how their students are learning.  “All the forth grade teachers in the district got together to talk about their students learning data.  After the meeting, I got to visit some of my teachers and I could really see them using the ideas and techniques that they learned from their peers to make their instruction even better. 

Michelle doesn’t work in education, but her clients do.  Her company, GMMB does strategic communications.  They work with educational policy makers, non-profits and other organizations.  She is here to keep her finger on the pulse of educational trends and school reform.  She’s concerned and excited about the Common Core Standards.  Now that forty-four states have adopted these learning goals for English and math, she knows the next step, implementation, is crucial.  “It’s a tough time for school professionals right now,” she told me.  “Everyone’s eyes are looking forward to the Common Core, but they are still be evaluated on the old NCLB criteria.”  Michelle has a lot of hope, though.  “Seeing how the states are working together to do things right this time is making me feel really optimistic.”

Eric Sheninger is the principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey.  Eric’s eyes are firmly on the future of public schools.  He is here as a presenter, talking about what he sees as best practices in Social Networking.  Saving some of his thunder for his presentation Saturday at 2PM, he was willing to share three tips for teachers wanting to use Web 2.0 technologies in their classrooms, “Keep it Professional; Update Regularly; and Celebrate Student Successes.”

Most schools are still afraid of social networks.  They see them as distractions to be filtered out of the learning environment.  At new Milford, Eric is encouraging his teachers to use social networking to hook their kids into learning.  His math teachers are using document camera to film themselves working on a problem and talking out the steps, ala the Kahn Academy.  “But we’re doing it in house,” he notes, “so it is the voice of the students instructor.”  They are also using Poll Everywhere to enable every child’s cell phone to become a student response system.  “The students use Google documents, we’re working with some corporate sponsors to get our textbook replaced with digital readers,” he went on.  “I’m already nearly paper free in my work as the school leader.  I’m trying to help my teachers get there too.” 

Just a couple of hours over chow mien and a beer… five very different attendees.  I think this is going to be an interesting three days.

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