“What is your superpower?”
– Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen, Founder and Director of the TechGirls are Super Heroes Movement
Welcome back to my review of the FutureSchools conference. Today I will begin reviewing the ClassTech Conference Stream which I attended. If you have missed my articles regarding the master class day, you can find the first article here.
I elected to attend the ClassTech conference for FutureSchools2016, having attended the same conference in 2015 as I felt that it was still the best fit for me and where I am, currently, in my teaching career. Day One of the ClassTech conference (Day Two for FutureSchools2016 overall) began with a welcome by Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen, who is the founder and Director of the TechGirls are Super Heroes movement (@TGAsuperheroes), and her introduction of our first speaker, Anita L’Enfant who spoke, briefly, under the title of Discover Authentic Learning in the Makers Playground.
Anita’s talk was very short, approximately fifteen minutes and the two main notes that I have from that talk were that authentic learning, for her, was learning that was relevant, involved real-world problem-solving, was meaningful and was useful. Being relevant does not mean that it has to be relevant to their immediate area; just that it had to be relevant to them in some fashion. The other key point was in relation to safe internet usage. Anita related that everyone in her house uses the internet, as is the case in many households and that part of the discussion around the internet involved ensuring safe usage. She spoke about a pair of websites (one aimed at parents and teachers and the other at students) called Think u know which has been developed by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in an effort to provide useful information about using the internet safely, particularly in regards to the various forms of social media.
I did visit the AFP stand on the FutureSchools Expo floor and spoke with the Officers running it (yes, they had actual AFP Officers there) and they spoke about how the information and handouts on various forms of social media that were currently popular (such as Instagram, SnapChat, Kik and Twitter) had been developed based upon what they had learned as a result of incidents that had come to the attention of various Police Agencies. The leaflets they had on the desk were available in both adult-friendly and student-friendly form on the respective websites. I do believe that the resources put together are well worth using as a way of teaching students about cyber-safety in particular forms of social media as, despite the required age to register being thirteen years old, I know of a number of my students who have and use social media such as Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
After Anita had spoken, we were introduced to our first keynote speaker, Jennie Magiera, and while a lot of what she said I had heard the previous day during the master class, there were some points of difference. Jennie opened with a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien: “I am looking for someone to share an adventure that I am arranging,” which she used to launch into a discussion around the Polynesian seafarers who left their homeland centuries ago to discover what was beyond the horizon and the fact that all they would have been able to see from their home shores, which is apparently believed to be Taiwan, was the sea, and so they were taking a big risk.
These seafarers were leaving behind two types of people and were themselves a third type of people, which neatly fits into the Rogers’ Curve for Early Adoption. There were the Innovators, which Jennie referred to as the hooray! group; those in the middle of the bell-curve, the large majority of people, whom Jennie referred to as the hmmm group, and then finally the laggards, who were dubbed the heck no! group.
We are used to thinking about early adopters of technology when we discuss the Rogers’ Curve for Early Adoption and typically the discussion is focused on the innovators or early adopters, with little thought or discussion of the remainder of Rogers’ bell curve. Jennie’s talk, however, focused on those people who are seemingly oft-forgotten in talks at conferences or are discussed in simple reference to how we, as innovators or early adoptors of technology, need to drag them to where we are.
Jennie asked us to consider that the laggards are often saying “I cannot….” out of fear or disbelief. The point being made here was that rather than admonish the laggards for not being on board, as often happens, we should instead take a leaf from the Polynesian early explorers. It was pointed out that they had to have said something powerful to convince others to join them on their exploration voyages. What can we say to the laggards around us to convince them to start their adoption of technology, and support them along the way.
Jennie then continued to outline some steps for ensuring a good Edventure (her use of puns was high and deliberate…and fun!) and she said that we need to find a crew; gather those around us who are on the same page, willing to learn, or who will support us, even if they do not wish to be involved actively. We need to name the ‘ship’ that we are edventuring aboard, take the obligatory pre-voyage selfie and then our briefing needs to include that we need to make sure that students fail and fail often.
Jennie elaborated on this point by reminding us that we are often told that we need to ensure our students are successful, whether it is in testing, in sports or socially; that it is our responsibility as teachers to ensure they experience success. Jennie (and I, for what it is worth) disagree. It is in the iteration and reflection upon failure that learning can occur. The acronym FAIL, meaning First Attempt in Learning should lead, with reflection and constructive feedback from the teacher to SAIL, or the Second Attempt in Learning. We need to allow our students to fail so that they learn how to fail. Failing is part of life, whether it is a test, or not getting the job or promotion you wanted. Jennie continued by asking us to let go, commenting that “like all fascist dictators, even though we think that it is for the greater good of our students, it is not.” We do not need to micromanage each stage of learning for the students.
Jennie’s next piece of advice was that we need to charm our inner student. We forget to be gleeful and to allow our lessons to be gleeful. If we are not enjoying a lesson, chances are that our students are not either.
Following on, Jennie reminded us, again, that innovation is an ongoing process and that we should not judge others for their starting point, which generated an interesting conversation with Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) via Twitter on this subject:
I believe that although it appears we were coming from different places, that ultimately, Rhoni and I are on the same page in regards to supporting the laggards, those who are reluctant to take up technology in the classroom, we need to do so from their starting point, as Rhoni puts it, “we need to meet them where they are.” Though we are most likely technology leaders, and the laggards around us perhaps see us as some kind of mystical technology wizard, we need to remember that the basic and mundane for us is likely equivalent to Jedi mind-tricks for them. Innovation is a never-ending continuum and we have to start somewhere.
Following this was a reminder to audit our innovations. Jennie spoke about how the recent National Education Technology Plan (#NETP16) noted that authentic learning in non-technological contexts abounds if we let go of our assumptions. Often as leaders, we operate in a bubble, an echo chamber, that is impenetrable to the heck no group. We need to emerge from that bubble and audit the answer to why are we a proponent of this piece of technology?
Jennie encouraged us to teach beyond the standards, to go above and beyond and spoke about her Year Four students, who surveyed other students about how they could give back to their community, with the typical response being “we can’t, we’re just kids.” Her students subsequently made a video with the core message “no matter how small you are, or how small the change is, yes, we can [make a change].”
Following this was a reminder that as the Polynesian’s reached each island on their voyage, they did not stop there and rest on their laurels, they kept going to see what impossible goal they could achieve next. Jennie spoke about introducing Google Explorations to a class for the first time and having a student exclaim that “I can’t wait to tell my parents where I’ve been today!” Not that the student said where she had been, not what she had learned. The what will be embedded, but for the student, the where is the immediate thing of importance.
Jennie’s final note was that we need to “share our crazy pills,” that whatever it is that excites us, our “poison of innovation. Rebecca Hepworth (@bechep2) put it succinctly via Twitter:
The vibe in the room at the end of Jennie’s keynote was energetic and invigorated. Jennie is a fantastically engaging speaker, and as you can see, despite having experienced a master class with her the previous day, I still learned a lot from this keynote.
There are still two speakers to review from session one, so I will close out this article now, and focus on the talks from Cathie Howe and Jill Margerson in tomorrow’s article. As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate any feedback or thoughts on this article or the ideas contained therein.