Our Unconferences

After attending Learning 2.010 in September, I really wanted to incorporate the the learning environments that were used at the conference at my school.

In November, for our schoolwide in-service day, I informally pushed the cohort model and got teachers creating artifacts to showcase their learning for the day.

And on January 12, two days after our winter holidays came to an end, the MSHS teachers created and facilitated their own unconferences. Here’s how we did it:

  • Before the winter holiday, I created and distributed a promo video for the unconference. Most of our teachers had no previous experience with an unconference so it was a way to introduce them to the idea and to outline the process.
  • On Monday morning, I loaded up the staffroom with “Topic/Facilitator” forms, markers and Blu-Tack. I also added the first possible session title (“Creating Better Wikis”) but left the facilitator blank.
  • Over the next two days, teachers slowly began adding session titles. Most of them were without facilitators but that didn’t bother me too much.
  • I sent out an email reminder every day encouraging teachers to create sessions and to vote for those that interested them.
  • On Wednesday afternoon, I took down all the session titles and tallied the votes. We ended up with 10 sessions 1 in total, divided into 2 groups of 5. Most of these sessions were without specified facilitators.
  • I sent an email to all MSHS teachers with topics and room allocations and left them to learning!

Some observations:

  • As a first go, the whole thing went relatively smoothly. It was nice to see the vast majority of teachers taking responsibility for their own learning.
  • I was hoping for a wider variety of possible topics. I’m used to participating in unconferences a tech conferences, so there are always plenty of ‘experts’. Planting the seeds of presenting with some teachers I know are doing great things is going to be key.
  • There needs to be more voting! This is something for me to stress in the future.
  • It was my intention to not lead a session but because of numbers I needed to. Unfortunately, my session was somewhat heavily attended when my focus was on giving others the opportunity to present and lead.
  • Even though most sessions (8 out of 10) didn’t have an identified facilitator, I think the teachers got a good sense of others who are interested in learning about the same things; a truly organic PLC.
  • This was the easiest PD session ever to organize!

Now that the groundwork has been laid, it would be great to be able to run an unconference (as one teacher said later, it doesn’t need to be about technology but just about sharing good teaching!) every 6 or 8 weeks. This would give teachers a chance to share, learn and celebrate on a regular basis. Is this something you can incorporate at your school? Any other ideas on how to improve it?


  1. Session Topics:
    • Film/Video Clip Editing (Movie Maker?) (5)
    • OneNote Tips for Improvement (2)
    • Google Docs/Forms – Survey Learning and Help with Planning (6)
    • Setting Up Digital Portfolios (6)
    • Saving Time with Digital Marking (16)
    • Digital Storytelling with Film (11)
    • Formative Assessment and Technology/Tablets (3)
    • How to Design a Webquest (5)
    • Using Discussion Boards on the Portal (2)
    • Creating Better Wikis (6)

It’s All Connected

A few weeks ago, we had an in-house PD day here at UNIS. At the beginning of September, the staff were surveyed on which of the whole-school goals they would like this day to focus on. The big winner (surprise!) was technology, followed by coaching and professional learning communities.

I spent a lot of time working with our Curriculum and Professional Development Coordinator on the plan for the day. We decided it would be an excellent way to introduce the entire staff to the Technology and Learning Plan that was developed (I was on the task force) last year. This plan consists of three goals: one based on the NETS for Students, one based on the NETS for teachers, and one focusing on our technology infrastructure.

Our goals for the day were:

  • To learn more about the school’s vision regarding technology;
  • To learn from each other about technology use;
  • To think about goals for teachers and students regarding technology use;
  • To facilitate discussion across the school divisions

So what did we do? I stole a page from Learning 2.010! Teachers were carefully grouped based on division, subject/grade level, gender, and comfortability with technology. After the MSHS principal introduced the Tech and Learning Plan, each group was assigned a strand related to one of the NETS-inspired goals. They discussed what they felt that strand meant to them as a way to generate some ideas. Then, they were given until after lunch (about 2 hours) to come up with some sort of presentation to the entire staff that introduced their strand.

Along the way, we modeled some different technology tools that could be used in the classroom. We used a wiki as a means of distributing information. We used Wallwisher as a parking lot for questions and concerns that weren’t directly related to the discussion. We used surveys on our SharePoint portal to quickly gather information from the group. We used Wordle to display our staff’s response to the prompt “How do you feel about technology?”

The presentation tools were varied; groups went with what they were most comfortable with – natural differentiation! There were movies, powerpoint presentations, a Prezi. One group tried to use SongSmith to emulate We’re All Connected; lot’s of groups used humor. The two Tech Facilitators (myself and my ES counterpart) were available to help troubleshoot but mostly groups just got on with it!

After lunch, we watched all the presentations and voted for the top two. We had created a very simple rubric (we are an IB World School, after all!) prior to the creation time to help guide the groups.  Not everybody was thrilled with the idea of a competition, but I really wanted to encourage groups to put in that extra effort!

During Learning 2.010 I was really struck by the enormous stress that we felt when trying to finish our group artifact. It made me really empathize with our students as we ask them to do this all the time without truly (I believe) thinking about what it puts them through. I hope this day helped to reinforce that with our teachers as well as highlight the amount of time these types of rewarding products take up.

Overall, I am very impressed with how these 100+ teachers tackled the day. It was extremely difficult trying to find a format that would suit the enormously varied needs of this large group of individuals in a way that they would find interesting, engaging and useful. We certainly asked the staff to be risk takers and to go outside of their comfort zones. They did so and then some!

Next up: Unconferences!

Some selected feedback:

“I really felt as though we each came away with SOMETHING interesting – even if it was not something practical to use for our own teaching, it may just have been a greater understanding of some things that go on elsewhere in the school, which also contributes to developing a whole school ethos.”

“I found the actual task and the working with teachers that I normally do not work with, very satisfying and I learned a great deal from them. Finding out things by ourselves was a great mirroring of how we should teach.”

“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to actually ‘work’ to make our learning happen.”

“I would prefer to learn about technology through direct instruction.”

“I found the presentation method very interesting, especially in observing the behaviors of myself and everybody in the group, how the decision were taken.”

“It really got us all involved and not only discussing technology but we were teaching each other new technologies that we used.”

“I liked the fact that it ‘demystifyed’ the use of technology in class and made it clear that it can be used, with basic knowledge, as long as you are ready to use your imagination and you’re are open to make use of others (students included) knowledge and imagination.”

“I thought the idea of familiarizing everyone with the school’s technology goals in smaller, mixed groups, and then using a technological presentation to give feedback was great.”

A(nother) Learning 2.010 Reflection

Last weekend I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Shanghai at the Learning 2.010 conference. It was a fantastic experience for a variety of reasons:

1. I got to meet up with a lot of my twitter friends: @klbeasley, @intrepidteacher, @dearlibrariann, @mscofino, @kurisuteen, @courosa@dkuropatwa, @megangraff, @betchaboy, @brianlockwood to name a few. I’m certainly not the first to say it, but those connections are worth more than a thousand keynote speeches.

2. One of my colleagues, @lissgriffin, jumped on the Twitter train with both feet and now is a Twitter force-to-be-reckoned-with! Beyond that, it was so rewarding to watch her realize that, as much as she may try to tell you otherwise, she’s on top of this ‘teaching with technology’ thing. Some of the ideas she’s coming up with are mind boggling. One day soon I’ll get her to either a) start her own blog about what she’s doing in her classroom or b) guest post here.

3. My cohort was pretty amazing. Led by Kim Cofino and Darren Kuropatwa, we explored the Future of Learning. The idea was to work in small groups to explore this topic in more detail after a few introductory discussions and activities. In just over 90 minutes my group cobbled together a presentation we called ‘Bridging the Gap’. The focus was on what we felt the future of learning is and what can we do now to put us in a position to be ready for that future. It was a good experience to be thrust into the role of the students, if only for 2 days. Working under a deadline in classroom conditions to create a product that you must then present to your peers: something many teachers take for granted that students can do. It’s hard work and we need to make sure we give them the time they need to create products they can be proud of.

We also had to contribute a slide to the Great Quotes about Learning and Change Flickr group. Here’s my submission.

I’ll have more to say about what I learned in my cohort in a later post.

4. Facilitating unconference sessions was very rewarding. I volunteered to facilitate a session on Tech Integration in a 1:1 School. I didn’t suggest the topic, but I figured it is my job and I do work at a 1:1 school so I was pretty well qualified to at least lead the discussion! Keri-Lee and I also ran a Twitter for Teachers unconference session, mostly because of conversations that we had with other teachers the previous night about the “banality of Twitter.” Needless to say, we disagreed. Twitter is only as useful as you make it, that’s true. Some teachers just need a little help in seeing how to make it useful and I hope we did that. (As an aside, is there another community of professionals that is using Twitter as actively as teachers?)

I was at the Learning 2.008 conference as well. I will be pushing hard to make sure I can be involved with the next iteration too!

What does a 1:1 curriculum look like?

Our new curriculum coordinator is really earning her paycheck. As she is in the process of researching and designing a new curriculum review cycle for our school, it got me to thinking: how should our move to a 1:1 environment affect our school curriculum? Should it even have an effect? Should we keep one eye on the future of learning – taking into account game-based learning, global collaboration, authentic audiences, etc. – as we are crafting this document?

If you are at a 1:1 school or a school with significant access to technology, has your curriculum changed because of it?

(This might be a good time to mention that I am in no way, shape or form even remotely close to an authority on curriculum development. Please feel free to set me straight in the comments!)