This weekend, I hopped over the border from Hong Kong into China for a weekend of learning at the EdTechTeam Shekou Summit (Shenzhen). Three years ago, I attended an EdTechTeam conference in Hong Kong and it opened my eyes to what the education of today and tomorrow should look like. I had little interest in technology before then and a minimal understanding of how to apply it to the classroom. That conference was a turning point in my career. I have come a long way since then! I have continued learning and integrating technology ever since and have developed a passion in this area.
When I noticed tweets about another EdTechTeam conference so close to me (in a city that I had never explored), I couldn’t resist. So, here I am enjoying a mini holiday while having my mind blown with new ideas. As always, my blog helps to reflect and consolidate my learning. It also gives me the chance to share my learning with others.
Below is a summary of my learning from this weekend’s conference. Of course, these are just the sessions that I attended. There were other options that also sounded fantastic. For more information on these products/ideas, follow the links to contact the presenters on Twitter. They will be happy to help, I’m sure.
A Message From The Future (For The Educators of Today) – Mark Wagner
In his keynote presentation, Mark Wagner (author of More Now) discussed our changing times and unpredictable future. He invited us to be “architects of the possible” and to “dream out loud”. Mark made reference to U2 lyrics that resonated with me:
“Of science and the human heart, there is no limit.”
U2, Miracle Drug
This line captures the role of educators in the digital age. Caring teachers who educate from the heart can be even more effective with technology.
Mark encourages us to focus on six key areas if we want to see real change in schools:
- Empowered Teachers
- Inspiring Spaces
- Engaged Community
- Robust Infrastructure
- Student Agency
- Courageous Leaders
I look forward to learning more from his book.
Become a Spreadsheet Superhero(ine) – Jay Atwood
The theme of Jay’s session was superheroes because, as he says, using spreadsheets makes us feel like one. The session focused on spreadsheet tips and tricks that give us super speed, invisibility, strength, etc. I have some experience of spreadsheets already and can certainly relate to the feeling of magic and amazing efficiency. I particularly enjoyed his explanation of pivot tables. I have learnt about these before (and even trained others on them), but I benefited from hearing Jay’s explanation and watching his demonstration. They are simpler than they look (like most spreadsheet functions).
PBL 3.0 – Using Cognitive Science to Improve Project-Based Learning – Darin Schmidt
In Darin’s session, we discussed Project-Based Learning from a critical standpoint and acknowledged its weaknesses and limitations that research has highlighted. We explored how PBL has evolved in response to these findings. In version 3.0, PBL acknowledges the need for a strong foundation of facts and skills, determined by standards. It also encourages traditional methods, where appropriate, for efficient instruction and assessment. There’s a place for PBL, but we need to integrate it with other practices that work. Darin outlined common myths that are associated with PBL and shared some suggested shifts that will improve it.
“PBL has not yet realised its full potential… We have to start doing it right.”
Education Leadership in The Age of Google – Mark Wagner
In this session with Mark Wagner, we looked at tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook and considered their leadership practices that promote collaboration and innovation. Then, we considered which practices could/should be applied to our education contexts. For example, Google famously has a “Culture of Yes”, where employees are encouraged to try their ideas. In another example, Facebook has a philosophy of being 1% done, always striving to progress and improve their platform. In these highly successful companies, they believe in dreaming big and learning from failures. They also spend a lot of time and effort considering what their services are like for their customers. What is the “user experience” in our schools?
Playground and Prizes
This section of the conference offered a variety of mini-workshops (fifteen minutes each) for us to rotate around. Here is a short summary of my three choices.
First, I learnt about Panoform from Jay Atwood. Among other features, Panoform allows us to create our own immersive VR environments in low-tech ways. Even with limited time (and not worrying about the gridlines), I was able to enter my artistic creation using an inexpensive headset and my phone. What could children draw and then explore immersively? The possibilities are endless! It’s unbelievably easy!
My next session was about Google Tour Creator with Carlos Galvez. Using the site, students can easily create a virtual tour of key locations from their learning. Text can be added to each location to provide additional information. The software uses 360-degree images that allow users to look around the area. With a VR headset, it gets even better! Students can immerse themselves in their tour.
To wrap up the first day, I learnt from Mark Wagner as he demonstrated the Rocketbook (each attendee received one in the morning). Using the app, users can assign the given symbols to various digital locations (email, specific Google Drive folders, Evernote, etc.). Then, they can scan their handwritten notes/sketches and send them directly to their selected location(s). There are additional features too, such as the ability to make GIFs from notes. I look forward to using my “Intelligent Notebook” and bridging the analog and digital worlds. For more information, click here.
To give us the experience of a makerspace (and to make use of the innovative space at Shekou International School), the facilitators gave us a challenge and provided some useful (non-tech) resources. We were encouraged to identify a problem within our profession and design/create a solution. We used Panoform (again) to take a closer look at our designs through VR. The session demonstrated how beneficial and engaging these activities are. We shared our products and ideas through Flipgrid. Makerspaces promote problem-solving, creativity and collaboration. These are characteristics that will be vital in our students’ futures. In inexpensive, low-tech ways, every classroom can have a makerspace. Teachers should design relevant learning engagements that make use of them.
Upgrading the guardians of learning: parents – J. Rafael Angel
In this session, Rafael shared his experience and expertise regarding parental involvement. At his school, parents (along with all other members of the school community) are proud ambassadors of the school. They are important partners on the journey towards the shared Mission and Vision of the school. Rafael shared some powerful questions to prompt our thinking, including:
- How can parents truly contribute to the school’s Mission and Vision with relevance and impact?
- How can we support parents to become ambassadors of our school?
- How can we help parents to rediscover the joy of learning?
Inspired by Inquiry Mindset (by Trevor MacKenzie), Rafael has developed a set of expectations and characteristics to promote positive and constructive parent involvement. In his school, parent meetings and events aim to develop these attributes in the parent body. How can we empower parents in our own schools? How can we demonstrate our appreciation of them and their input?
Empowering Student Voice: Using Podcasts, Flipgrid & Social Media to Showcase Young Voices – Ceci Gomez-Galvez
Student voice is about students speaking up, having opinions and knowing that their voices will be listened to and appreciated. Put simply, empowering student voice shows kids that they are valued. In a perfect example, we watched the video of Emma Gonzalez the day after the Parkland shooting in Florida. Whether you agree with the politics or not, it is clear that she has been empowered throughout her education. Immediately after the tragic event, she demonstrated that she was bold, courageous, confident and knowledgeable about this key issue. This wasn’t achieved overnight! Since then, Emma and her classmates have continued campaigning and the movement continues to gather momentum. They are using their voices for good and are not afraid to challenge those in power.
Ceci utilises many platforms to empower student voice in her own classroom. As a proud Flipgrid Ambassador, she outlined the power and potential of this tool with some inspiring stories from her own practice. Furthermore, she gives students an authentic audience through social media and podcasting. I found myself nodding along with Ceci and punching the air in my imagination. As a blogger and social media advocate, these topics are right up my street! There are so many powerful learning experiences going on in Ceci’s classroom! I look forward to collaborating on future projects.
Moonshot Thinking in Education: Meaningful, Innovative, and Doable – Mark Wagner
Moonshot Thinking is about dreaming big, setting huge goals and solving major problems. Mark encouraged us to identify big problems in our profession, such as standardisation and educator burnout. We collaborated and followed a Design Thinking process to generate ideas and create a solution. I was surprised by the suggested approach and how effective it was! Initially, Mark asked us to generate solutions that would be crazy or even impossible. This encouraged us to dream big and, as the session title suggests, shoot for the moon. It’s surprisingly difficult to think of impossible solutions. We realised that each one could be possible, as long as we overcome some of the related barriers. By the end of the session, my team was enthusiastically ready to launch our product! I was amazed by how far we came in such a short space of time!
Closing Reflections and Prizes
To close the conference, we used Flipgrid to share our reflections. We were encouraged to think of one ‘wow’, one ‘woah’ and one ‘wonder’. I had many ‘wows’ over the weekend but the Moonshot Thinking session was fresh in my brain. I was amazed that we could generate such fantastic ideas and prompt such fruitful discussions by identifying a problem and working through the Design Thinking process. My ‘woah’ was the recurring thought that I have made a lot of progress since my last EdTechTeam Summit. For my ‘wonder’, I wonder how I can share my learning with my colleagues (near and far) in an impactful way. How can I make fellow educators realise the importance and potential of innovation and educational technology?
To conclude, I’ll leave you with this message from the Shekou International School’s principal: technology is for mainstream teachers, not just the geeks. It’s the way we do things now. Once again, I encourage you to reach out to these presenters if you have any questions. Alternatively, comment below and I’ll help if I can.
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