21st Century Learning Conference 2019

This weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the 11th Annual 21st Century Learning Conference (my first time at this event) and it was even better than I knew it would be. The only thing better than the presentations was the company. It was the biggest collection of amazing teachers that I have ever witnessed. So inspiring and energising! It felt like my entire PLN was there and it was very special to finally meet some of these connections face to face. I’m reminded of this quote by Brian Fanzo:

“Social media will never replace a handshake. But social media done well will change the first meeting from a handshake to a hug.”

Brian Fanzo

The only downside of the conference is the heavy burden of carrying so many new ideas and the daunting task of implementing them all. As a process for reflecting and consolidating, I need to blog more than ever! Below, I have shared a summary of each of the presentations that I attended along with links to the presenters. For more information, I encourage you to reach out to them.

In case you don’t have time to read this lengthy blog post, my video below offers a quick overview (made using Apple Clips). It also shows additional photos and videos from the conference.

Day 1

Opening Keynote: Embedding Character Strengths in Your School – Justin Robinson


Justin Robinson, director of the Institute of Positive Education (IPE), gave an inspiring and thought-provoking keynote about the significance of character strengths and why we should be embedding them into our everyday teaching. Justin invited us to consider what is RIGHT with ourselves because we often focus too heavily on what’s wrong. Justin suggests that we should identify and celebrate the signature strengths in everybody at school. All of our students an colleagues (even the difficult ones) have strengths that will help us to appreciate them. We can also apply our signature strengths to difficult situations to improve these experiences. Justin offered many suggestions on how to embed character strengths in schools. As he was talking, I was thinking about how the same ideas could be applied to the IB Learner Profile attributes.

Making with Micro:bit – Stu Lowe and Haymen Mak


Micro:bit is a product that I have been meaning to play around with. I even bought my own kit recently. Stu and Haymen share cool things on Twitter every day and many of them include micro:bit. There’s nobody better to learn from! They started by sharing some ways that their students have used micro:bit and then invited us to try. They seemingly brought their entire makerspace with them for us to enjoy! It was also appreciated that they prepared different options in order to cater to our different abilities. As a newbie, I chose one of the simpler options. I coded a step counter and then (with limited time) created a wearable strap. Micro:bit is so much easier to use that I thought! As always, the challenge lies in its creative and meaningful integration. I look forward to breaking out my own micro:bit and trying some of the other tasks.

Makerspace: Leveraging Personal Inquiry by Blending Digital Tools with Hands-On Learning – Hugo Indratno and Jane Ross

This was my first session of the weekend about passion projects (or Genius Hour, iTime, etc.), but not the last. Jane and Hugo shared how their school is implementing this popular idea to great effect as part of their desire to firmly embed a maker mindset. This session, along with the similar one by Carlos and Jess (outlined below), gave me many ideas about how we can improve our current iTime practice. I’ll go into more detail later, but it got me thinking about mentors, documentation, celebration, purpose and the important role of reflection. Despite my repeated efforts, passion projects haven’t quite been as successful as I would have hoped… yet. But that’s ok because, as Jane said so eloquently:

“Failure is not when something doesn’t work. It’s when no learning occurs.”

Jane Ross

Create engaging videos with Keynotes and Clips – Coby Reynolds and Mandy Hollingshead

As a daily user of Google apps, I’m much less familiar with Apple products. I was keen to attend this event to see how Keynote and Clips are being utilised to create content. The conference video that is posted above was started in this session as I familiarised myself with Clips. It was described as ‘iMovie Lite’, which is a fair observation because it offers many of the same capabilities (but not all) in a simpler way. With Clips, it is easier than ever to create professional-looking videos. I also learnt tips for drawing well on Keynote and how the drawings can be animated and exported to Clips. I will definitely introduce Clips to my students as an additional option for content creation. For more information, check out the Everyone Can Create curriculum book or scroll through the #EveryoneCanCreate hashtag for inspiration.

Turning Ideas into Action: How to Create Your Own Charity Project – Adam Carter

Adam is a teacher in Beijing who finds and supports charitable causes in his spare time. He uses his website (Cause and Affect) to promote important causes and raise funds. He then shares photos and videos with the donors so that they can see how the money has been utilised. Adam is an example to his students (and everyone else) that anybody can take action and make a difference; no power, fame or wealth required. Adam has got me thinking about how I can use this blog to make a difference. It already supports Room to Read and, specifically, education in Tanzania (see my donation page for details) but I’m now wondering how I can take it to the next level for greater impact. A very inspiring session!

Bracing for Blockchain: What Your Students Should be Learning Now – Ryan Krakofsky and James Waller

This entertaining presentation was also highly informative. Ryan and James introduced us to blockchain and highlighted some of its advantages and pitfalls. I learnt about cryptocurrency, secure peer to peer networks (vs. centralised) and smart contracts. Blockchain is transforming society by improving industries such as healthcare, charities and politics. It is seemingly the future and we should, therefore, be preparing our students for it. For more information, reach out to James and Ryan because they can explain it much better than I can. And, yes, the rumours are true; there is a blockchain rap somewhere in the deepest, darkest corners of the internet…

Passion Projects: Edu-fad or Meaningful Learning Opportunity? – Carlos Galvez and Jess Kuemmerlin


I have been interested in passion projects for a long time and I have integrated it in recent years with varying success. In most cases, it has been good and worthwhile, but I still feel that we have a long way to go (especially compared to the schools represented here). This session with Jess and Carlos was perfect for me because they shared the massive successes that they are having with passion projects and facilitated the discussion on how we can improve our practice. Like I said, I have many takeaways from this conference that I am itching to implement, but this is at the top of the list. With the advice from Carlos, Jess, Jane and Hugo (earlier session), I plan to take our passion projects from average to (as Ryan called it) MAGIC! My plans for this will be discussed in a whole other blog post so I won’t write any more at this stage. Watch this space.

Closing Keynote: Collaborative Professionalism: the next educational frontier – Dr. Andy Hargreaves

To close Day 1, it was a privilege to listen to Dr. Andy Hargreaves and learn from his expertise regarding schools, leadership, teaching and learning. I know that he won’t mind me calling him an expert because, as teachers, he wants us to move away from “the death of expertise” and take them seriously. “I’m not an expert but…” is admittedly a phrase that I have used many times in this blog! He also emphasised the importance of both solidarity in schools AND solidity. In other words, schools need both ‘stuff’ and relationships. Finally, he shared his experience of being injured in the mountains and being rescued. He made several meaningful connections between this experience and education. In this short summary, I am fully aware that I am not doing justice to his inspiring, hour-long talk. I suggest that you buy his book as I did. I look forward to exploring these messages in greater depth.

Day 2

Gamification – how a low-risk game economy can replace your high-risk grade economy for; Formative Assessment, Differentiation, and Curricular Integration – Eric Nelson


Gamification (not to be confused with game-based learning) is a concept that I have been interested in since Michael Matera’s presentation at the Hive Summit. I’m grateful to Eric for reminding me of this. With regard to students and gaming, Eric has an “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra, which makes sense. As Eric said, games are designed to be engaging, motivating and the right degree of challenging. These are principles that should also apply to classrooms. Gamification is about turning learning into a highly engaging, low-risk game in order to promote intrinsic motivation. Eric endorses Classcraft as an easy, introductory option for gamification newbies but highlighted some of the limitations. Eric, with the help of his “Justice League”, is developing his own classroom games for teachers to adapt. Check out his Facebook page for more information.

Mindset: The Key of a High Performing Leader – Jess Kuemmerlin

This thought-provoking and reflective session left a big impression on me. We explored the mindset of highly-effective leaders and the obstacles that block us from achieving our goals. Jess encouraged us to pursue our HVS (highest version of self). Importantly, he told us to be very specific about our goals. We then spent a long time thinking through the HVS protocol (what, why and who) regarding our ambitions and this provided me with direction and a vision. Very powerful! The section about barriers to success reminded me of Captain Snout, a children’s book by Daniel Amen about ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts). I recommended this to Jess to complement his presentation. Check it out if you haven’t already because it offers important messages to children and adults alike.

On a side note, Jess used Poll Everywhere to collect our ideas. Our responses were presented as a ‘live’ word cloud. I have never seen this site before but I’m very grateful to add it to my toolkit!

Build Micro:bit Games – Stu Lowe


I couldn’t resist another session with Stu and micro:bit. This time, the session focused on how micro:bit can be used to create games and/or game controllers. Stu shared many examples from his own practice including a steady hand game, a bottle shake game (inspired by Nintendo’s 1-2-Switch), a zen balance game and a reaction game. Dalton and I made and coded our own reaction game using Stu’s instructions and resources. I’m thrilled that I attended a second session about micro:bit because it approached the topic from a different angle and built my confidence further. Micro:bit is a relatively cheap piece of kit that is extremely versatile and much easier to use than one might think. As I can see from Stu’s tweets, these two short sessions barely scratched the surface. Stu has inspired me to keep playing and tinkering. You’ll be seeing many micro:bit tweets from me over the next few weeks and months.

Building Your International Educator Brand (A.K.A. How will I get my next job?) – TS Bray

This is the message that I want all educators to hear. I couldn’t agree more with Tim. As a former principal, he emphasised the importance of building an online presence in order to stand out from other applicants. Of course, there are many more benefits of being connected as well. Tim encourages teachers to be their own cheerleaders and to “shamelessly self-promote” to develop a brand that will show who they are as educators. As a blogger, I challenge the widespread notion that self-promotion is a dirty word. Rather, it’s an increasingly essential part of life. Obviously, Tim agrees. He sees social media activity as a big factor in the recruitment process and warns us that an increasing number of school leaders agree. I’m thrilled to hear this because, for many reasons, I have been working hard on my online presence for years. For others, this warning might start alarm bells and prompt action. A few years ago at an EdTechTeam conference, it was this quote that persuaded me to join Twitter. Four years later, it is more relevant than ever.

“How can you claim to be a 21st century teacher if you are not taking advantage of online possibilities or contributing to the wider profession?”

EdTechTeam, 2015

Make it Graphic: Digital Design Skills for Students – Tanya LeClair

As teachers, we have all seen students create with little consideration into the design. I attended this session because it made me think of my students’ lime green slides, Comic Sans font and stretched images. I now have the CARP framework that I can share with them: Contrast Alignment, Repetition and Proximity. These four simple principles can transform a visual, as Tanya demonstrated. To apply what we had learnt, I created a visual for one of my favourite George Couros quotes using Canva (an awesome website for designs). I added an image that was relevant to the quote, used colours that contrast and consciously made use of the negative space. I’m quite proud of it!

Isolation is now a choice that educators make.

Rethinking risk: Are children too safe for their own good? (Closing Keynote) – Dr. Mariana Brussoni

The conference concluded with this powerful message from Mariana about the importance of outdoor play and the detrimental effects of being too ‘safe’. Especially in Asia, this is such a concern that The Play Coalition describes it as a silent “play emergency”. The vast benefits of play are well researched and yet too many adults prioritise other activities such as homework, tutoring, etc. (with the best of intentions, of course). Technology doesn’t help the situation either. We must ensure that our children are balanced and have plenty of time, space and freedom for all-important play. With this in mind, mark May 23rd in your diary for Outdoor Classroom Day 2019. I’d like to do something special to promote these undisputed benefits. To conclude this blog post, I’ll leave you with this gut-punching quote:

“The opposite of play isn’t work – it’s depression.”

Brian Sutton-Smith

For more information regarding any of these topics, leave a comment below and I’ll help as much as I can. However, I once again encourage you to reach out to the presenters. Also, look out for other blog posts and videos about this conference because there were many other presentations that I missed (that all sounded fantastic). For a quick browse, you might also like to flick through the #21CLHK hashtag. If you are close enough to attend, keep an eye out for next year’s unmissable event. I have every intention to present next year and I want my PLN to hold me to that.

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    1. Hi Tim,

      You’re very welcome. It was a very interesting session and a message that I want more educators to pay attention to. Hope to see you again soon!



  1. Great post! Definitely one I will return to and engage with again.
    I’ve always tried to incorporate Passion projects, iTime, Genius Hours into schools I have worked in. The more I do, the more I realise just how much time SHOULD be taken in helping to find the passion and ideas. I used to start, lesson 1, what are you passionate about? Here are some inspirational videos. Off you go. 2 minutes later and students had lost interest. For it to be successful, it must come from the students. It will not be their first idea, but it could be their 5th idea, 6th idea or more! It’s the one that they care about that will be most successful!

    1. Hi Lee,

      Thanks for the comment. A big shift in my thinking was when Carlos and Jess said that they don’t expect students to have passions right away. However, they do expect them to do their project passionately. There’s a big difference. Hopefully, these projects can spark a passion authentically but they won’t always. Expecting students to identify one is too much to ask. As you say, they just need to care about something and then run with it passionately. I know that Carlos and Jess spend a lot of time and the beginning of projects to inspire ideas using teachers’ passions and things like that.



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