VoicEd2014: A day of inspiration and learning

So yesterday was amazing… I know I overuse that word and Orwell would lament my failure to create a unique and interesting image to describe something, however, it truly was AMAZING! Why? Because my colleagues and my PLN continue to surprise me and astonish me – that’s how google defines amazing, lol.

If you’re not sure what VoicEd2014 is (was?) you can read my blog post about it here. Essentially it was an elaborate ploy to bring the best of Twitter (and public education) to my school. No, for real, it was. The day brought together twelve inspiring educators to share their ideas about critical and creative thinking with a collection of educators from all levels – primary, secondary and tertiary – at my school, Davidson High School. I can’t actually express how much gratitude I have for my principal, Jann Pattinson, and my colleague, Claudia Pantschenko, for working tirelessly to make the day as wonderful as it was. They made sure that it was truly an ‘event’ and not just some motley get together (certainly what it would have been were I in charge). The trust they had in me choosing the speakers and sharing the word to encourage people to attend is precious, just humbling. If you were there, you know what I mean when I say that it was fun, relaxed, smooth and focused. Looking out at my school’s MPC, full of engaged and interested learners, I was so proud to be a public school teacher.

OK, so enough blabbering on about the radness. You wanna know what you missed, right? Well below is a quick summary of what I took away from the day. You can read the tweets from the backchannel via the Storify, here.

Bruce Dennett: Bruce was the only speaker who I didn’t organise. He is a well-known speaker at History-related study days etc and is quite engaging… I guess that makes sense, since his focus is on learning through engagement. Bruce spoke passionately about his 30 years as a high school teacher and his research into what makes an effective learning experience. His presentation included a lot of quotes from well known researchers into education and engagement as well as clips from The Life of Brian – haha. Some of my favourite statements from his talk included these two:

“If you’re pandering to the needs of passive learners, you’re not doing your job properly.” “Being positive and engaged with your subject is your greatest tool.”

Ultimately, his point was that students have to want to be in your classroom in the first place and it is our job to make that happen through finding what makes our own subjects engaging and relevant for our students. Teachers are creative, passionate people, and we should use these qualities to think critically about what would be appealing to our students in our content. He argues for the use of interesting and provocative questions to drive student inquiry and learning… sounds familiar 😉

Pip Cleaves: Pip’s talk was such a great precursor for the teacher stories to follow. She talked about the six dimensions of 21st century learning and you can see the slides from her talk here. Her argument that we should focus on learning and not technology is brave and wise. Too often schools are pouring money into new technologies without first thinking about how, when and why the technology will be used for learning. I think a lot of the dimensions are reflected in PBL, so of course I thought her talk was rad.

Simon Borgert: Simon was a bit of a target during the morning sessions – being one of only two Maths teachers in the room – however his talk quickly dispelled the myth that Maths is boring and dry. I loved Simon’s focus on problem-solving and discussion. Problem Based Learning is very similar to Project Based Learning, however it is driven more in a lesson-by-lesson inquiry that has discussion and shared problem-solving at its heart. You can see the slides from Simon’s talk here.

Bianca Hewes: (that’s totes me!) I didn’t do that much talking for this presentation, instead I let my students do the talking. I filmed my year 12 students chatting about their thoughts and experiences with PBL because I’ve been teaching them that way for over three years. They said some super sweet things about it developing their resilience, independence and ability to think in new and different ways. I really wanted to hammer home the idea that PBL is a process that at its heart has critical and creative thinking, but I think I just blabbed for a couple of minutes about crap. Oops.

Polly Dunning: Polly talked about her experiences with the Flipped Classroom and how it has helped her to work more collaboratively with her students. Just like Simon, she expressed her belief that discussion is a powerful learning tool. Thanks to her recorded lessons (only in ten minute chunks) she has more time in class to discuss the ideas of texts with her students as well as helping them overcome any challenges they’re finding with set tasks. I really enjoyed Polly’s presenting style – a mixture of humour and practical advice.

Clarinda Brown: I loved this talk! Clarinda is the queen of timing – she had her slides timed beautifully (pecha kucha style) and spoke confidently and passionately about how she used Twitter to develop her PLN (professional learning network). I think her talk had one of the best impact factors – a number of new people have signed up to Twitter within 24 hours of the conference. Oh, and did I mention that she did a backflip in the middle of her talk? So awesome!

Tony Loughland: Tony was our second keynote address and I enjoyed his mini quizzes about the Professional Standards – we certainly weren’t prepared to answer them, well, maybe Pip was! I loved how Tony interacted with the audience and challenged us to think in new ways about the role that the Standards play in the lives of teachers. Tony stressed that if we want to be recognised as professionals, the we should understand and adhere to a set of professional standards. He has lots of interesting things to say about why standards matter, but at the guts of it was that understanding the standards can and will empower teachers. My take on the standards is that we should all strive to be better teachers, so why not use these Standards as a personal challenge to get even better? I’ll be trying for the HA level some time soon in my career, even though I know the paper-work will be a drag 😉

Jess Melkman: Jess spoke about her love of collaboration in the classroom with her fun talk ‘Stop: Collaborate and Listen’. The take aways from her talk were: spend quality time in class discussing the positives and negatives of group work with your students; use online spaces like edmodo to encourage collaborative behaviours and ensure that collaboration is assessable in assignments.

Eric McMarron: Eric is a primary school teacher who encourages his students to learn through play. I loved his positive, enthusiastic approach to teaching and his eagerness to share his ideas with others. You can see what he does in class on his blog, here. Eric had us all up playing the 1-2-3 theatre sports game to get us experiencing the joys of failure that happen during play. His main thesis was that play is the most authentic and engaging way to learn because it has an inherent feedback loop where failure is celebrated as a means to learning. He showed us the enthusiasm of his students for game-based learning activities and the power of these to create empathy and understanding in students.

Monique Dalli: Moni shared with us her experience of being the iPad coordinator at her school in its first year of being 1-1. This challenging position resulted in some of the most creative and effective problem-solving I have seen from a teacher. Moni realised that she could not be tech support for every student in the school, and decided to ‘hire’ students for the role as ‘Techie’. Students had to formally apply for the positions which only went for two terms. Now she has a crew of ‘geeky’ year 8 students who run tech support for students in year 7 – every home room and 24/7 via edmodo. Moni revealed how successful the initiative was for the individual students and the wider school. Many people in the audience will be stealing this idea, I think!

Cathie Cashmere: Cathie is an un-bloddy-believable multimedia teacher. She spoke about the amazing things that her students have created as part of their study of ICT/multimedia. What I loved the most about Cathie’s talk was the genuine sense of awe that she has for the work her students produce. It is clear that she sets very high expectations for her students and encourages them to challenge themselves in their work. My take away was that students truly do have the potential to do real work for the real world right now – some of her students have done paid jobs as part of their school work. So cool!

John Goh: John spoke passionately about the need for leaders to be disruptive and transformative forces within their school environments. John is the perfect spokesperson for such a movement, considering he has brought about radical changes at his school from changed school hours (8am-1.15pm) to new, open learning spaces and a whole-school shift towards a PBL and collaborative teaching approach. I loved that John spoke about his decision to get rid of his office and spend more time in classrooms and chatting with students. My tweet during his session pretty much sums up his ideas about leadership: “Disruptive leaders challenge assumptions and values, they question the known and head into the new.”

Roger Pryor: Roger has inspired me and supported me since I first found Twitter way back in 2009. It was such a pleasure to have him speak in front of my friends and colleagues in my school. I loved the provocative title of his talk, Creeping Lateralism, which really had us stumped for a while, lol. Roger’s talk was the perfect close to the day as he really honed in on the need to challenge the assumptions made in the wider society about school, teachers and education. He encouraged us to look at the imagery/symbols typically associated with schools and teachers – very traditional icons that we often try to avoid in the 21st century classroom (go on, do it!). He referenced the way contemporary start-ups talk about their businesses (and goals) and compared this to how we speak about school. He quoted John Goh’s observation, ‘What happens when we win the education race? Do we get a lolly/chocolate/donut (not sure what the thing was, lol)?’ and I loved this idea – so provocative and so true. What do we win? Why are we so concerned with winning this mythical race? Roger’s talk was one of my favourites of the day, I wish you were there to hear him. He’s an impressive speaker.

So that was VoicEd… we ended the day with a couple of ‘Birds of a Feather’ sessions where attendees could get up close and personal with the speakers. I was pretty impressed that so many people stayed around right until the end… like, for real! We were thinking people would leave at lunch time, but they stayed and listened and then asked lots of great questions. That, for me, showed that the day was a success. Now, as Pip tweeted earlier, “Imagine if everyone who went to #VoicEd2014 tried something they learnt back in their school on Monday. That’s where the impact will be.” That, indeed, would be awesome.

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One thought on “VoicEd2014: A day of inspiration and learning

  1. Thanks for sharing your reflections Bianca! I’ve loved reading it and it sounds like a most inspiring day. It’s often difficult to get the right sort of professional learning experience for the educators who are already out there doing things differently, which is why I think your day sounds so wonderful! It would be the kind of day that challenges and affirms in an energetic and positive environment! Well done to you, your school, the presenters and participants!

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