On Monday, our faculty spent the day at the annual faculty conference of the Arizona Association of Independent Schoools.   The next day, I asked each attendee to summarize their key takeaways in a sentence or two, and I am now happy to be able to share them here.

For the iPAD, I learned that educational apps are improved and increasing, that Flash programming is not planned yet, that some of the apps can be projected on the screen, and that Mathination is a great app for math.

I was very appreciative of the time to interact with other upper/middle school heads.  That simply does not happen normally, and it was so valuable to hear other concerns/approaches and snag a few ideas from people who are in positions and have responsibilities similar to mine.

For me, it was valuable to hear the keynote speaker’s articulate reminder of just how powerful a tool personalized attention can be to motivate
and raise a student’s achievement.

Senior year centered on a  BIG idea — senior class engaged in the final semester in ONE project that ALL their teachers teach toward and that culminates in service and travel.

AP stinks in certain disciplines (Chem and History) and takes us away from student-centered best practices and the leading ideas on best  methodology and Tesseract seems to have the political will at the moment to admit that and to avoid it.

I learned that you can teach the math underneath a video game programming to young people without programming background.

The physical education breakout session was superb.  I had the opportunity to listen to 8 other PE teachers talk about their curriculum.  We discussed “what seems to work” and “what doesn’t”.  I  came home with new curriculum ideas and new ways to deal with physical education uniforms. I realized how fortunate we were with our long class blocks.  We are able to break our class into four different segments and not feel as though we must rush through the different activities.  Many of the other educators only had 30-40 minute classes and are very limited in what they are able to achieve in each class.  The other teachers were very interested in our curriculum especially the bicycling unit and upcoming Quidditch for muggles.

The Networking segment was interesting. It was good to hear what other schools were doing, similar successes and hurdles.

In the Humanities networking session, I was really interested in the group’s discussion of APs.  Everyone in the room agreed that the AP curriculum is too limiting on school curriculum planning and should be eliminated, even though there is also the recognition that parents, primarily, are the driving force behind school offerings.  As an AP English lit. teacher, I am not bound by content requirements, so the AP designation doesn’t interfere with my teaching content or even really skills, but I would also be up for eliminating them.

The “Rise Up” session about developing middle school leadership: the presenter talked about activities that would be part of such a program, but no models or examples.  His presentation was more about ideas regarding adolescent leadership rather than an actual program.  In this, however, I found some nice ideas on how students can begin thinking about the concept of leadership and see in themselves leadership qualities.     One of the activities he does with this students focuses on perspective and leadership. This meaning that a leader must be aware of perceptions different from his or her own. In this activity he would give the students all the words to a poem, but randomly.  The rules are to create a poem using all of the words. After the poems are written, he shows the students the original.  This can lead to a discussion of why one word was used in such a way or the theme of the poem. This would depend on the student’s perspective, and lead to more discussion.

I really liked the session on cooperative learning. The presenter discussed how learning situations would differ depending if it was independent learning, competitive learning (such as a test with a curve), or cooperative learning.  He gave us a small task that we completed in each of the settings. During the different activities he would ask how we felt and what we observed. Even though it was a short and simple task, the qualities of each learning setting could be seen and discussed.  While one would think that we would like for our students to work in cooperative settings all the the time, the presenter stressed that the other two settings also have value if used appropriately.

The key note speaker said we should applaud our students.  Be enthusiastic.  Know your students on a personal level.

Heifer international offers school groups an educational experience at their headquarters in Oklahoma.  We are so going!

We may do writing on a topic on a note card as an entry to class, and again on the back a summary as an exit ticket.

The best takeaway I got from the conference was connecting (or reconnecting) with others in similar positions as I. I got some good professional development ideas and we had a good conversation about assessments.

New tool that I learned about at the conference was Edmodo, an online classroom communications tool for teachers and students that is similar to Twitter or Facebook. Its a secure social network where students and teachers can share notes, files, links and assignments.

The Tesseract art teacher’s presentation on using visual media in the classroom was rich.  She urged us to consider the ways in which art is connected to science, math, music, and literature; indeed, she challenged the validity of the compartmentalization of these ways of knowing during a time (our time) she characterized as a second renaissance.

The ipad presentation by the IT specialist was a look at the future of education; I firmly believe the ipad or something like it will transform the way we teach and the way students learn in the next five to ten years.  The ipad is superior to the smart board for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that more effective differentiated learning can occur using the ipad than using the smart board.   That is not to say I want to throw out books or contemplation free of technology.  I had an interesting discussion with Jim C. about the importance of cultivating the habit of contemplation in our students.  I don’t know where that fits into our school day, but I know it is a valuable part of the human experience.  I also know that I don’t want to read War and Peace on an ipad or a kindle.  I want the feel of the book in my hands.

The networking session was fruitful, and I always think after a session like that, teachers don’t network and share ideas enough face to face.  It’s not that we don’t want to; it is that too often the schedule and the machinery of school don’t facilitate networking, teaming, and true, authentic collaboration.  I am always grateful for these conversations.

I loved exploring the world of Google SketchUp 8.0.  The presenter, Cherilyn Gain, was enthusiastic about the program and gave a wonderful workshop on its many vast uses in school curriculum.  I found myself brainstorming ideas for it’s use in my classes during the workshop and also envisioned how it can be used in many other classes as well.

The day was good – its always interesting to talk with other teachers in your field, the networking session was interesting but could have been better organized – i feel like the first presentation would have been much better if it were a brainstorming session, not a presentation – he didnt get to his point – a lot of presenters need to work on (and im sure me too) getting the audience involved to make their point!

In Creative Curriculum Integration Terry Scullin introduced a great method for poetry reading in class.  She made repetition fun and by using simple percussion instruments she taught emphasis, inflection, and creative interpretation and expression.  It was also helpful that she shared her music list with us through iMix on iTunes.

I may start using Voice Thread for self and peer critique for public speaking projects.

Barbara Nueske-Perez’s session on integrating art in the core curriculum was the best part of the day. She has more connections with national museums than I thought possible, and she offered several creative artistic approaches to every audience member’s particular subject area.

I walked away with several good ideas to implement in my English classes.

I enjoyed the session with other middle school humanities teachers.  I learned a lot from how our peers at other schools do similar projects differently– such as teacher collaboration, integration of different subject content, trips, and even testing.  We could do more of that at St. Gregory if we had more time to meet with teachers who share our students.

It is always worthwhile to meet colleagues in your discipline in a high-performing and dynamic school. It gives you perspective on what you are doing and what possibilities exist.

I really enjoyed the Sketch up google application for my art history class and also studio art.  The young teacher showed us a much improved user friendly version to build monuments  and sculptures and use all of the textures and building icons. It was really useful and inspiring and made me turn the corner as far as using more technology in my sculpture units.  I felt  that I could do it successfully and plan on experimenting with it this  next semester.