Lets Make a Conference Team

I go to a lot of conferences. Maybe not as many as some people I know, but certainly more than most teachers. It is important to me that I get out of my school and district and see what other people are doing. I need to talk to other teachers to understand the challenges they are facing and how they are overcoming those challenges. It helps me in identifying and overcoming the challenges I face in my own classroom. I do try to manage the conferences so that I am not out of the classroom more than I really need to be. This means a lot of workshops and conferences on weekends and breaks, on my own time.

Some of the conferences are paid for by my district, some I pay for, and still others are paid for in trade for my services presenting at the conference. My biggest expenditure for this PD is my time. I invest a lot of time, and I want that time to be used effectively. I often wonder after attending a conference if my time would have been better spent not presenting, but by paying for my conference registration and attending all of the sessions in which I was interested. I usually am left wondering if my presentation was effective. I sometimes receive feedback from session evaluations. The feedback occasionally is timely, but it is rarely useful.

I have asked my PLN for advice; how can I become a better presenter? I have even asked if it is important for teachers to present at conferences. The answers I got were not overly helpful. Yes, it seems, it is important to present at conferences, because that is what teaching is, presenting. To get better you keep doing it, and watch others, and you will get better. I call poppycock on that last one. Practice, without effective feedback, does not make perfect.

I think I need a peer presentation team. I need to team up with someone and team teach these conferences. We would submit a proposal as co presenters. Each team member would review the other’s proposal, and provide timely, effective feedback. Each would review the other’s presentation, again providing feedback. And they would sit in on each others sessions, not to co-present, but to be a critical friend, to watch what is happening, and to provide areas to improve. By submitting as co-presenters we would not be scheduled against each other and be available to watch the actual presentation. ┬áIf I am going to improve my presentation skills, this is what I need to do.

So the deadline for Fall Cue is right around the corner. Does any one want to be on my team?

Fall CUE

This weekend was the 2012 FallCUE conference. First a huge tip ‘o the hat to Jon Corippo for the ride to the conference.  I wouldn’t have been able to attend on Friday at all without Jon’s generosity. Another tip ‘o the hat to  Wayne Stagnarro for pushing me to attend. 

FallCUE has only been around a few years. There are some old timers who talk about a Northern California CUE conference, but that is ancient history in my book. The modern version of the conference is held at American Canyon High School in Napa County. Yes, THAT Napa. It wasn’t really that difficult of a decision to attend; fall in wine country is not exactly a tough sell! It is one of the few conferences I can actually get my wife to accompany me to, imagine that.

On to the conference. There were really a number of workshops that helped me with things I have been struggling with. Alice Keeler brought her spreadsheet magic and filled in a huge hole in my teacher student feedback loop. She showed us how to use a Google Drive form to gather student assignments, and then use a mail merge script to send feedback to the student via email, directly from the form spreadsheet. Very slick, and even I can do it! As if that were not enough, she then showed us how to use a pivot table in the same spreadsheet to keep track of the student assignments. 

That alone was worth the price of admission. But wait, there is more!

I also got to sit in on a session by Ramsey Musallam talking about how and why to “Flip” a classroom. There is a lot of buzz out there about flipping a classroom, and mostly I have been unimpressed. My thinking is that replacing a boring lecture with a YouTube video of a boring teacher lecturing doesn’t do anything to engage more students, or help students be more engaged. But that, Ramsey explained, is not what it is about. I am not going to pretend to articulate what I now understand, because I don’t think I can. Not yet. But I do have a few ideas about how I can implement what I learned this week. 

I left that workshop with my head spinning, but wait, there is even more!

Another highlight of the conference was the closing keynote by Vicki Davis, aka Cool Cat Teacher. I have followed Vicki on the Internet in a number of platforms for a couple of years, and she often dumps my cheese cart over.  She talked about telling kids “you are good at something and it is my job to find it.” I need to get back to the classroom and find some kids’ talent.