The first conference I attended this summer, The Martin Institute Summer Conference was held at one of the premier elementary boys' schools in the nation, Presbyterian Day School. The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence is a wonderful organization founded by Memphian Brad Martin to provide world class professional development to area teachers in both the private and public sectors of education. The summer conference is so exciting because private and public school educators have the opportunity to share experiences and learn together. The featured speaker at this year's conference was John Hunter, the innovative educator known for his development of the World Peace Game. Further reflections on this aspect of the conference will be forthcoming in a later post. Today, however, I wish to devote my reflection on the presentations which I was a part of at both The Martin Institute Conference and the Hot Springs Tech Institute.
For the second year in a row, I have been honored to be able to present at The Martin Institute Summer Conference with my friend and colleague, Megan Salemi. This year the focus of our presentation was on our collaborative work integrating technology and literature studies in Dr. Salemi's fifth grade classroom. We have found that the use of social media technologies, specifically Kidblog, Glogster, and Edmodo increases student engagement with text, creates excitement among students about books and reading increasing the time students actually spend reading, and has a positive effect on student comprehension as evidenced by standardized assessments, in reality, Rewiring the Reading / Language Arts Block in more ways than one. This year, Megan and I decided to invite two of our students to assist us in presenting our methods and findings. Who better to speak of the effectiveness of these techniques than the students themselves? This was the highlight of the presentation. Teachers who take their own time during the summer to attend professional development opportunities are not in teaching for the money; they are in this profession to make a difference and they appreciated the opportunity to discuss educational methods with two articulate students. I learned from this experience that we should allow our students to tell us what they think of our lessons and how we are going about teaching them and most importantly, that teachers, administrators, and other interested persons should listen to them. They have a lot to say, and while we may not always be able to accommodate them, they make some very valid points. It's a real shame that there were not more administrators and policy makers in our session to hear what these students had to say.
Megan and I also traveled together to attend The Hot Springs Technology Institute held at President Bill Clinton's Alma Mater Hot Springs High School to present two separate presentations about our work to integrate technology into core curricular content. Her session, Enrich Literature Circles with Technology, focused on how a classroom teacher could utilize technology to enrich literature study without massive amounts of hardware. For all but one month of the school year, Dr. Salemi had only three consistently working computers in her classroom. She did schedule additional computer lab time through me and utilized it consistently, establishing the importance she placed on the use of technology as a learning tool.
My presentation, Visible Thinking With Technology, also focused on utilizing technology in the classroom as a learning tool and as a showicase for student learning and understanding. Taking 5 Thinking Routines from Harvard's Project Zero's work in Visible Thinking, I showed how these routines could be easily integrated into existing lesson plans and how educators could use free or inexpensive technologies as tools to supplement and showcase the understandings students derived from the use of these routines in core curricular lessons. While my session was not heavily attended, I received very positive feedback about the information presented from the attendees. I definitely wish to refine and expand this presentation.
Hot Springs was a great experience. I was able to spread my wings a bit, speak to a totally different group of educators, and share my passion for learning and technology. An educated, critical and creative citizenry is a must for a robust 21st century economy and workforce. Technology integration is not an option as the world becomes more wired each and every day. Teachers and techies within the school must work and continue to learn together or not only the teachers but our students will fall behind.