I was fortunate to attend and present twice at the VSTE Conference this year. I have attended VSTE for 3 years now and here are some of my takeaways.
Everyone should go to conferences
One major regret I have from teaching high school math for 13 years is not attending conferences or seeking out my own professional development as I should have done. Like most teachers, I got caught up in . . . well . . . teaching . . . . and coaching soccer and basketball . . . and being a club adviser, and serving on committees, etc… I just didn’t prioritize going to events that would have exposed me to great people, ideas, and inspirational messages. This is what you get from a conference. They make you feel like part of a community, part of something greater than yourself. You come away with new tools and techniques to try in your classroom and share with your colleagues. I have never been to a conference in which I didn’t come away with at least 5 things that I could use and share right away.
Furthermore, the other presenters and keynote speakers inspire you and spark your creative mind. We all have creativity in us but sometimes others have to bring it out for us to believe it.
Everyone should try to present at a conference
I suffer, as many people do, with low self-confidence. When people tell me that I have a great idea that should be shared, I always think it’s not good enough or it’s obvious. But your obvious idea is someone else’s brilliant idea. This isn’t because you are so much smarter than them but because your mind works differently. I bet there is something you are doing in your classroom that is worth sharing at a conference so that others can benefit. So make up a catchy title, write a top-notch description and submit it for review. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t get selected. The best thing is that you get to present at a state conference and build relationships with other professionals that you may have never encountered otherwise.
Here are my two presentations at VSTE 2017 along with the descriptions
- 5 First-rate Forms of Feedback – Instant, relevant feedback is crucial in accelerating student learning in the classroom. Students need to know how to improve at the moment in which they are applying their skills and knowledge of the content. Feedback given the day after the lesson is just too late! Learn 5 ways in which you can leverage technology to conduct self-reflection feedback, teacher-to-student feedback, peer feedback, student-to-teacher feedback, and community feedback.
- Ready, Set, Steal – 5 Places to get Ready-made Resources – We live in the BEST time to be a teacher and a student. Never in human history have we had access to so many amazing, high-quality, interactive resources . . . . and they’re FREE! Why spend hours and hours reinventing the wheel when you can STEAL?!But how do you sift through all the clutter to find these gems? I’ve done it for you! Learn about 5 resources that can be used in any subject area to make your class dynamic, interactive, collaborative, and memorable. These resources can be used to support a blended learning model such as stations, whole group rotation, flipped classroom, and station rotations. The applications are endless. The resources are ready-made. Let me show you how to save tons of time and give you ideas on how to use them to transform your classroom! P.S. I know there are actually 10 resources, but it’s hard to do 10 in an hour AND let the attendees ask questions and play with the tools. Better to do 5 really well than 10 too quickly in my opinion.
Build relationships with great people
I was able to attend an hour-long session by Jason Green (@JasonToddGreen) who is the co-author of Blended Learning in Action: A Practical Guide Toward Sustainable Change who talked in detail about the steps to take in changing teachers from a culture of teacher-centered instruction (sit and get) to student-centered instruction (guide on the side). He asked interesting questions like “What if students were allowed to work together on state exams?” and “What if students could access the Internet during state exams?” How would our teaching change? In his second session, attendees got to actually participate in a blended learning lesson about blended learning.
These are the types of deep dives into pedagogy and modeling that can change the culture of a school. Teachers can’t change overnight and they can’t easily transform their classroom without envisioning it first through models of blended learning instruction. I got an opportunity to talk with Jason after these sessions and share some online professional development classes that I had developed to get feedback from him so that I could improve.
Share with your colleagues
I have known teachers and administrators who return from conferences and do not share anything with their colleagues which is so unfortunate. Let’s face it. Not everyone can go to conferences due to a variety of reasons (family obligations, financial struggles, transportation issues, etc…) Let others benefit from your experience by sharing with them what you learned during a faculty meeting, a professional learning community (PLC) meeting, an email, a blog post, a video, etc…
You can implement what you have learned in your own classroom and invite others to observe so they get a better idea of what to do. This sharing builds a culture that will lift every teacher to a new level. Hoarding your newly acquired knowledge will only benefit you and your students rather than the whole school!
In the spirit of sharing, here are some other things I learned from VSTE 2017
- Verso – discussion board where students can post and reply to each other anonymously but the teacher can identify everyone. Easy sign-in with Google. Great way to get honest feedback but still know who is posting. Simply post a question for your students to answer and watch the conversation develop. I will be showing this tool to all of my teachers, but especially ELA. Thank you Monet Baker (@monetbaker07)!
- Desmos Games – Marbleslides, Polymath, Land the Plane, etc… can be used to teach slope, y-intercept, coordinates, functions, parabolas, transformations and more. Game-ification! So much fun! Great engagement. Easy sign-in with Google. I thought I knew Desmos but I hadn’t seen this golden nuggets before. I will definitely be sharing this with my math teachers. Thank you Farica Erwin (@Nerd_QED)
- Technify and Thrive – Instructional Technology Planning Guide – A repository of tools, ideas and inspiration, and instructional delivery models. Tools organized by task and great ideas of how to implement them as well. Thanks Keith Baldwin (@keithabaldwin) and Karen Ott (@karenott1) of Chesterfield County Public Schools.
My advise? Go to a conference in 2018. Here is a pretty good list of them.