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)

Open Your Door!

As a classroom teacher, I hated to be observed. Heck, I hated to teach in a room where another teacher was working, even if they weren’t even paying attention to me? I never could figure out why I felt that way…

Now that I have begun to live my life online — open and transparent, as much as possible — I realize how debilitating that prior mindset was to my teaching. Of course I learn a lot fromthe other great souls who are teaching and living out in the open. But my openness is forcing me to be more introspective and reflective: Why am I doing what I’m doing, and what can I do to make it better? Opening the door to my online persona has caused me to be more introspective and reflective. It has helped me to grow professionally and personally, even if nobody ever reads a word that I write.

I firmly believe that the average teacher’s, well, openness to openness is directly proportional to that of the school’s in which she works. It is a learned behavior that is nurtured by the institution. If a school were to implement a healthy open-door and/or walkthrough policy — with the goal of observation and not appraisal — it would be an easy step for those teachers to begin to share their professional practice to a wider audience.

So why are schools in general and teachers in particular so reticent to openning their doors, either to their parents or their colleagues or to the world? What are they afraid that others will see? Maybe more accurately, what are they afraid they themselves will see?

Image: ‘open door‘ licensed under CC BY NC

MYP Workshop Debrief

I just received the feedback forms from my first MYP Mathematics workshop that I led in March.

It’s mostly encouraging, although the few responses in the “Strongly Disagree” column really jump of the page.

  • One person strongly disagreed with the statement “Information was presented in a clear and organized manner.”
  • One person strongly disagreed with the statement “I gained a deeper understanding of how to achieve horizontal and vertical articulation.” (This was probably, overall, my weakest point according to the results.)
  • Two people strongly disagreed with the statement “I can use what I learned in this workshop to collaborate effectively with other teachers in my department/school.”

In general, the feedback was quite positive. 78% rated the overall quality as “very good” or better. 88% were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the workshop. Overall, I’m not too concerned if one or two people didn’t like my presentation style: I know it is impossible to please everybody. I also know that we (as a group) chose to focus on certain things, such as assessment, at the expense of others, such as interdisciplinary planning. It does concern me that two people walked away feeling that didn’t learn anything that would allow them to collaborate effectively with others, especially since the main thrust of many of my sessions were around using Zoho Docs to create and edit collaborative documents, particularly when it came to planning.

In the free response section, some of my strengths were listed as:

  • Very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Listened to participants very well. Led discussion well and allowed time to cover topics participants needed to know about.
  • He obviously is an extremely organised teacher with very thorough methods of assessing his students. He was reactive to needs of the group, was able to answer (almost) any question that was set and clarified some of the less concrete MYP requirements (the unit question/significant concept debate)
  • He was very open to people’s ideas – and as result participants were very open to share and accept feedback. He did not allow arguments about assessment to go onto long.
  • Kept the group on task, listened to everyones point of view, accepted the times when someone disagreed with him and was always open to other people’s points of view.

Some of the suggestions for me:

  • Some people in the workshop kept having private conversions during the workshop which made it very distracting. I wish he had a creative way of addressing that situation.
  • differentiate the sharing session by grade levels
  • some of the participants were a little disgruntled that we started things and put them aside without unpacking them or wrapping them up (eg. the newspaper exercise). That said, the ability to share our work and ask numerous direct questions about our practise meant that something had to give…
  • Make a summary of what has transpired in a previous session before proceeding to the next session.
  • More time is needed sharing resources and actual units of work. More time spent on mathematics and less on general IB topics.
  • I thought the first day included too much introductory information about the MYP as this was a stage 2 course. (Not a big issue but this would be my only criticism of the course.)

Probably my biggest concern as the workshop leader was my midjudgement of time. As two of the suggestions point to, we didn’t have enough time to complete the task and then have a discussion about the task. I had hoped that a lot of that ‘unpacking’ would have happened in their own personal reflections on the session (I tried to incorporate a different Visible Thinking Routine for each session, both to model the use of VTRs and to give some variety in how participants were reflecting upon their learning).

Any ideas on how I can address those suggestions? My future workshop participants – next up: Kobe, Japan in October 2010; like one person said to me, I couldn’t have sucked that bad if they asked me to do another one! – will certainly appreciate it. So will I! =)

Thing 2 – What is Web 2.0 and (Why) Does it Matter?

idn_web_rots by Rodrigo Vera.I have a confession to make: When looking over the 23 Things, there are only a handful of things that I don’t already feel like I have some sort of comfort with. I blog, I tweet, I wiki, I have a Personal Learning Network that I am continuously cultivating to suit my needs and interests. And I have firsthand experience as to how the collaborative nature of the read/write web has changed me as a teacher.

As an L^3 (LifeLong Learner; I’m a math teacher, give me a break!), I harness the power of Web 2.0 on an hourly basis. If I have blog questions, I tweet an Edublogs guru. If want to talk politics or pedagogy or sports or the joys of international living, I connect with intrepidteacher or MsMichetti. And I’m constantly reading the thoughts and blogs of some of the most influential 21st C. educationalists around. To say that I learn more from the people in my computer than the people in my building would be a gross understatement.

As a teacher, wikis allow me to encourage collaboration and independence between my students. Creative Commons licensed photos allow my students to ethically find images to support their work. YouTube gives me a library of media that can be used for business or pleasure.

Web 2.0 is just awesome (boom de ya da, boom de ya da!).


image: idn_web_rots by Rodrigo Vera

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