Tag Archive for conference

Medina, Zhao, and Banks: the PNAIS Fall Educators Conference

This past Friday, Catlin Gabel hosted the PNAIS Fall Educators Conference, a one-day event featuring three keynote speakers, over 20 school-led breakout sessions, and about 600 attendees. The conference planning committee did a tremendous job in securing three distinguished speakers who addressed the conference theme of multicultural education from very different perspectives.

Molecular biologist Dr. John Medina made two very pointed arguments: brain research does not inform education at all; brain research has some very specific recommendations for education. It was refreshing to hear a keynote speaker not overstate the implications of his own research. Medina emphasized the idea that each learner is unique, and teachers must have the capacity to detect what each learners needs in order to be most effective. He named this skill “theory of mind,” also known as empathy, and asserted both that we can assess and train teachers for this skill.

Dr. Yong Zhao, professor of education, challenged the notion that American education is behind that of other nations such as Singapore, Sweden, China, and India. Although these countries do test better in math and science, they fall short in teaching creativity and entrepreneurship. Each of these countries is attempting to make their education system more like that of the United States by creating more free time for students and increasing elective course choices. Though I appreciated Dr. Zhao’s counterexamples, I found that he glossed over the unacceptable achievement gap in the U.S. and the role of economic and military power in the continued global dominance of the U.S. creative class. In this way, he fell into the same trap as most politicians and major press outlets, focusing on global competitiveness at the expense of other purposes of education, such as democracy and equity of opportunity. Dr. Zhao mentioned that he is moving with his family to Portland, so perhaps we will see more of him in the coming years! (Update: Dr. Zhao is keynoting at NCCE next year.)

Dr. James Banks, professor of diversity studies, presented a powerful retrospective of the history of multicultural education in the United States, explaining how assimilation did not work well for immigrants of color, how the loss of culture leads to a vacuum that many seek to fill, and how reports of the death of the nation state are likely premature. He reinforced the critical importance of teaching alternative perspectives on historical events and supporting students of color as they navigate U.S. culture and its educational system.

The speakers reinforced ideas that I have worked to implement in schools for years. Teachers by and large still struggle to work with the variety of learners present in their classrooms. Only a few truly integrate heterogeneous group teaching strategies as a core feature of their instructional techniques. Too often for their reputations, independent schools offer insufficient expertise in broadly-used teaching techniques, such as optimal group sizes for activity types, multi-modal instruction, previewing, and formative assessment. Heavy reliance on tutors and the departures of some students who don’t perform sufficiently well indicate how some school programs do not meet the needs of all of the leaners that they admit.

Dr. Zhao’s emphasis on creativity, choice, and problem-solving found a friendly audience at the conference. Certainly at Catlin Gabel, one can see principles of progressive education in action, for example in the high frequency of experiential educational activities or the emphasis given by a number of school leaders and teachers on teaching social justice, equity, leadership, and the responsibility of good decision-making inherent in a democratic society.

We have further to go to reach the educational ideals presented by Dr. Banks. The school dynamics that encourage assimilation and/or exclude certain students are by definition always present in independent schools. Independent schools must engage in diversity professional development and student work every year, as an ongoing, everlasting project. Only in this way will students feel able to fully share the richness of their experiences at school, and only in this way will schools fully benefit from the richness of their students.

These three gentlemen filled me with hope, even while they aroused my critical commentary. I return to school Monday ready to continue the hard work of helping an excellent school become even more excellent, and supporting all students to achieve the richest educational experience possible.

Collaborative Learning on an International Stage

I will present two sessions at the above-named conference on Friday, September 24 in Boise, ID. Here are my two sessions.

Structuring an Online Conversation: the Why Not? Model

Let’s imagine that you have found an international partner for a virtual exchange. Now what? This session will describe the key features of a rich online environment and curriculum for international collaboration. Learn how to take your virtual  exchange beyond the “pen pal” stage. We will explore the “Why Not?” model used to connect Oregon schools with teens in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Jordan, and Iraq. Session participants will be invited to share success stories and challenges from their virtual exchanges.

Global Education: More Than Just Trips

The presenters will share global education projects that go beyond cultural exchange and language learning. Examples will highlight international service, the Global Viewfinder Film Series, trip planning, curricular integration, cross-grade collaborations, technology, ongoing partnerships, and sustainability. We will encourage attendees to share interdisciplinary global projects that happen at their schools.

Whither the virtual audience?

studnet speaker

We successfully broadcast Catlin Gabel’s workshop to design the school’s next community event(s). I had the uStream working smoothly, the facilitator played his role perfectly, and we included the contributions from virtual participants in the real workshop. In the two weeks before the event, we made at least eight announcements in newsletters, email messages, and online articles that people would be able to attend the workshop online. We have some 3,000 alumni and 500 current families from which to draw a virtual audience.

Only five people showed up, and two were my IT colleagues.

What happened? What is the potential of live web broadcasting in a school?

I have seen uStream used most successfully in an educational setting to live broadcast major speeches and conferences. I recently tuned into a great presentation at Castilleja School. A Stanford professor was explaining how all websites, but social networks in particular, are vehicles of persuasion. I was the only virtual attendee.

Broadcasting educational technology conferences seems popular of late. The audience is large, widely dispersed, and technologically savvy. Still, having been a virtual participant before, the presentation quality is poor enough that it makes difficult to pick up everything that is going on. Our virtual participants on Saturday made the same comment.

I don’t feel compelled to live broadcast major events at our school. I would rather record with videocamera and then publish the next day, in higher quality than uStream and as a permanent addition to our site. Just last week, I recorded our Martin Luther King, Jr. community meeting (elementary), published it to a private page for our community, and already it has been viewed 70 times.

Perhaps people are just too busy to attend a live, five-hour online event at a specific time. They can play recorded online video at their convenience. Maybe for this event, we should have eschewed live participation in favor of making a highlight reel of the major points in a recorded video format. Or maybe the gesture of opening the meeting to virtual participants was a sufficiently important to justify the work involved.

Perhaps we were competing for audience against ourselves. If the 100 most interested people actually came to the event to participate in person, how many more did that leave to participate virtually?

Have you seen the new Cisco ads showing telepresence in classrooms? Who really thinks that schools will be able to afford high-end video conferencing of this sort? Grocery stores have far more flat-panel televisions than schools these days, and they sell food.

I would like my next attempt at live broadcast to involve a sports event. Sports have the immediacy of experience that demands a live broadcast, color commentary could be fun and interesting, and the project would involve students. However, we would still be competing against ourselves for audience, the potential audience is relatively small, and a lot of people might feel content to just find out the score the next day. It’s worth a try, though, as students studying at home could easily tune in and follow the game.

I could imagine a schoolwide event during which we partnered with one or more schools elsewhere to pursue the same agenda and discuss similar topics. However, I would choose Skype for such a broadcast, so that it would be equally bidirectional.

Have you used uStream in a school with more success? Did you draw an actual audience? Please tell us about it.