Saturday, February 4, 2012

ISAS Conference - The Sparks of Inspiration

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I love when a conference truly inspires teachers. This was my first Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS) conference, and it was inspirational. The quality of speakers was top notch. The lineup included:

I learned something substantial from each of them. I agree totally with the 5 C's of essential skills that Pat Basset detailed as needed for the 21st century, which are critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, character and the bonus “Sixth C” recently added: cosmopolitanism (cross-cultural competency).

Heidi Hayes Jacobs dazzled everyone with Web 2.0 tools, while giving us a resources to go back to to find more of them at the Curriculum 21 Clearinghouse. A takeaway like that is golden.

After having read Disrupting Class a while back, it was nice to be reintroduced to the concepts in person by Michael Horn. Student motivation was his key concept. He made great points about blended learning, and I agree that it will be a crucial way to keep kids motivated in the future.

I will definitely be revisiting the 4 levels of fitness that Tony Schwartz told us about. (Physical, Emotional, Mental and the Human Spirit). He explained that we need to live life fully engaged "as a sprinter, not a marathoner." This means we need and must take renewal breaks. Most of the attendees I spoke with took that piece of his talk to heart.

David Eagleman was fascinating in his presentation about the brain. Lately there has been a lot of literature about how our brains form new pathways when we have new experiences and new learning. It was great to hear more about that firsthand from a scientist. I loved his analogy about how our conscious mind is really only a tiny part of our brain function. He said "our conscious mind is only a broom closet in the mansion of our brains." Most of our brain activity happens "under the hood." Fascinating stuff! Multiple forms of creativity in education helps students become problem solvers of the future.

Also, he mentioned an interview he watched with Isaac Asmiov in the early 90's where Asmiov envisioned the future of learning. He predicted that there would be a big, huge central computer with all the world's knowledge and that each student would plug into it from their home. In this world, students could choose their own learning path. They could begin where they wanted and follow the path that excited them. It would be more authentic learning, since it followed the path they were passionate about.

Eagleman said that today's kids are doing more "just in time" learning, as opposed to how we learned growing up, which is called "just in case" learning. For example, I had to learn Calculus, just in case I needed it. (I haven't, by the way) He gave an example of a teen getting a flat tire on his bike. The teen would simply whip out his phone and Google how to fix it. That is the best "in context" learning possible, which is how we want kids to learn, so it sticks with them. Finally, he ended with stating that yes, kids do learn differently today, but it's not necessarily a bad thing - just different.

My biggest paradigm shift came when the final speaker Jane McGonigal spoke about video games. Going into it, I remember thinking that gaming in schools is great, but how exactly do you implement something like that? Well, I was in for a big surprise. I have been wondering about the research on kids and video games for a while. I haven't seen much. I had lots of questions.

McGonigal said that "Gaming can make a better world." Huh? Of course we were wondering about that. Here is her Ted talk, if you want the full scoop. Meanwhile, I'll summarize my favorite bits below.

Gamers become more creative, not just while gaming, but out in their real world too. They bring a lot of the positive aspects of gaming to their lives. I did not know that. Also, gamers bring that hero complex of wanting to save the world into real life too. They begin to look for ways to make that big impact that they make in the games in their actual lives. The flip side is that when kids come into school they become incredibly let down in a traditional "boring" classroom, after having spent time in a vibrant, action-packed game environment.

But here's the most exciting part of her presentation. Gamers are solving real world problems. In the example below from DISCOVER MAGAZINE , you can read how scientists struggled for over a decade on an AIDS research problem, then they decided to hand it over to the gamers. It took the gamers only three weeks so solve the problem. Yep.

McGonigal asserts that we can continue solving the world's problems with gaming.

I was glad to find out about the positive traits that are developed and honed by playing hours and hours of video games. This fascinates mes. Perhaps having a son who likes to spend hours and hours on video games made it more personal for me. But in reality Jane pointed out that the statistics show ALL kids boys and girls are now playing hours and hours of video games. So we need to all be interested in what this is doing to children.

There is so much more on this topic than I can spell out here. Go to Jane McGonigal's site for more. She also has a book called REALITY IS BROKEN.