Thoughts from #Byte2013

On Friday I had the privilege of attending the Byte 2013 conference in Neepawa. I originally was not going to attend but the Tuesday before I attended the MANACE TIN and after I had met a few Tweeps from Twitter I realized that it would be a good idea to go and see what it was all about. I was a bit apprehensive at first  but because it was such last-minute decision I didn’t have anyone to go with. Luckily I knew that there would be a few people from my Twitter PLN in attendance in the conference so I wouldn’t really be ‘alone’. As I sat down  in the gym full of attendees I had a moment of “Oh dear what did I get myself into…” but luckily with a few Tweets by my first session I met @MissL and we were off to a running start!

Here are my big take aways from the conference:

The first session I attended was “Global Education – Flatten your Classroom” by Eva Brown, Kate Hallett and Jennifer Kasprick. This session was great and introduced me to a few tools and sites that I haven’t used before. The fist was MentorMob which is a site where teachers can create playlists from the internet.

The second resource I was introduced to was the Flat Classroom projects website. This site has a wonderful number of projects that can help you make your global connections in your classroom through a number of different projects. There are projects designed for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and is well worth a look.

My second session of the day was “They All Have Computers… Now What? Teaching in a BYOD School” by Roy Norris. I chose this session because we are currently reviewing our technology policy at the school I teach at. The debate is centering on what devices students can bring to school (and whether they should be able to) and what they should be used for. It is always interesting for me to see how averse people are to students bringing their devices to school but that is a post for another time.

Roy’s presentation focused on his schools journey into BYOD and what they learned through the process. One of the things Roy said that if you are considering going BYOD take a year of PD with your staff to learn about BYOD and how to implement it before jumping into the fire. The other big take away for me was when Roy was asked about equity of devices and what happens when you have students who bring different quality of devices with different programs on them into the classroom. His response was simply it is not about the device or the program on the device but rather it is all about what the students are doing on the device. Does it really matter if a student is reading a book on a computer in PDF file or on Kindle or in a physical book? What really matters is that everyone is on the same page reading the same material. The same goes for writing and collaborating. It doesn’t matter if they are writing in a Word document, a Google doc or in the body of an email what matters is that they are doing their assignment.

Another point that Roy made in response to a question about distraction caused by the devices made me think about the current BYOD debate at my school. Many of the objections about students bringing in iPods or computers centers around them being distracted in class. A member of the audience asked what he did about students who weren’t focused 100% of the time because they are accessing other sites on their devices. His response was that students will zone in and zone out but as long as they get the work done it isn’t an issue. I would liken the distraction to doodling in the classroom or daydreaming it is just happening in a different medium. During all the talks I was on my laptop checking out links and writing notes from the presentation and occasionally would Tweet or check out something unrelated. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t focused but rather was that ‘zoning in, zoning out phenomenon”.

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A history lesson for the mini Clones and the Mini-Stormtrooper

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

The third session I attended was “Connecting, Reflecting and Creating: Why We Blog” By Kirsten Landen  (Miss L) and Tyler Letkeman. Kirsten and Tyler ar both preservice teachers at Brandon University and regularly blog and Tweet. I regularly connect with Kirsten on Twitter to share ideas and thoughts. It has been nice to have someone out there who is also a new teacher blogging and Tweeting – Helps me not feel so alone! I particularly like their session as they walked through the different reasons why they blog. It was nice to see their motivations and how similarly they lined up with my own. Perhaps the biggest take away for any new blogger from their session would be to find a focus and to go for it!  Another thing that really struck me was Tyler’s focus on creation when blogging. This struck me as it is the highest level Blooms Digital Taxonomy and is something that I should be doing more on my blog.

The last and final session I attended was “Building your PLN/PLC” by Phil Taylor. As anyone knows I am a bit of a Twitter addict and a big advocate for it as the  best free PD out there for teachers. Phils session introduced me to two new sites that I haven’t used before. The first is News.me which aggregates all the Tweets from you twitter stream and sends you an email with the Top 5 Tweets of the day. This is especially useful for people who often feel overwhelmed by their Twitter stream and need a nice easy way to get the best content out of the constant flow of Tweets. The second site is Rebel Mouse which is a site that aggregates all of your social feeds into one beautiful page.

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Pinky & The Brain photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

My head has been spinning from all the things I learned at the conference and all the connections I made on Friday. The coolest moments were when I finally got to meet some people I follow on Twitter. Making those face to face connections really makes you realize that Twitter is a human network and that you really are sharing with colleagues around the province and world. I look forward to learning from my PLN and attending more conferences in the future!

Things to look out for:

EdCamp is coming to Winnipeg June 1st http://edcampwpg.org/. Come get involved or attend and learn with others!

Maple 4 Teachers is a networking tool for teachers coming out of the Manitoba Department of Education. It is currently in Beta but as it rolls out it should be another fantastic resource for educators around our province  to use.

How Would a Square Fit into a Triangle?

In December as I was starting to get ready for the looming January job hunt, I started thinking about how to set up a digital portfolio and settled upon a program that I thought would help me showcase my work perfectly. The only problem was that it wouldn’t embed into the site as I wanted it to. Instead of having a picture of the program to click on, it just gave me a hyperlink! Not very aesthetically pleasing at all! I could have easily run to my brother (computer programmer) or the internet to help me solve my problem but instead I decided to give it time and think about it. Although it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind as the days turned into a week and two weeks, I kept brainstorming ways to solve the problem. I had no luck until yesterday when I sat down and a moment of inspiration struck and I tried out my solution and it worked!

Puzzle

C.C. intvgene

This little anecdote about my tech problem solving incident may seem a bit silly but it really got me thinking about how students might need the same space and time to think when they are problem solving. In a classroom there is constantly the pressure of time on our backs. Only so much time is a available for the period, only so much time is allotted for a test and there are only so many days in the school year! If a student needs more time to figure out a problem what happens then? They may look to another student, the teacher or other resources for help. But is this instantaneous answer seeking always the best way to solve a problem? It doesn’t challenge a students thinking but it does help to show them how to solve the problem and perhaps will help them solve a similar problem the next time they encounter one.

But what if like me and they want to take the time to do it themselves? A student may be lucky enough to be given a bit of extra time at the end of a test to give their problem another go or perhaps they could stay in at recess and work on it. Or who knows they may take it home to work on it on their own time. But more than likely the problem will fall by the wayside only to get lost in the blur of the school day and be forgotten about, another brain stretching opportunity lost.

So what does all this mean in practice?

To me it would mean to always keep in mind that on demand is not always best. Although speed is something that will be needed as students grow up, in the early years classroom it is more about developing the skill sets needed to solve problems effectively and accurately. As a teacher I should aim to guide students through the problem solving process and not always give away answers the instant a question is asked. A student who does not instantly get a problem may just need to be given the space and time to think about how to get to the solution. They may need to be shown the appropriate tools or strategies related to the problem.  When teaching I should make time to revisit problems in class, later that day or the next to give students a chance to look at them with a new set of eyes and perhaps have their own lightbulb moments! Problems in life aren’t often so cut and dry that they can be solved instantly but rather they take time to solve. There is nothing quite as satisfying as solving a problem you have struggled with for a long time, self efficacy is a powerful motivator and empowering feeling!

Battle against the desertification
Battle Against the Desertification

C.C. Robbert Van der Steeg

*In the next few weeks I should have my digital portfolio up and running on this site, so keep checking back!*