Saturday, March 16, 2013

The flatter the better

Several days after returning from the Flat Classrooms Conference 2013 held at Yokohama International School Japan, I've had some time to unpack my ideas and reflect on the experience.
The format of the conference is truly innovative - teachers and students at a conference together, learning together, thinking about global issues together all in an environment of innovation and motivation. We were truly fortunate to be in the presence of 80 students who actually care about their world and 80 teachers - who are willing enough to take their own time to travel across the globe and collaborate and connect with other educators.
The buzz in the room was awesome on Day 1 - and everyone was anticipating the great couple of days we were to be part of.
Over the next couple of days we were treated to some great thinking, some very moving stories and a feast of approaches to bringing our world together.
The theme "How can we help each other" set the scene and much of the Day 1 keynotes and interviews focussed on the Tsunami in Japan exactly 2 years earlier. Our problem to solve: how to bring students and teachers of the world together to help each other get through times of adversity, how to help each other prepare for a future of environmental uncertainty, how to help each other learn together and understand each other better.
One could be nothing but touched by the stories out of the Tsunami region - best personified in the award winning movie - "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom". Even if you can't get to a cinema to see this film, watch the trailer video - human emotions laid bare - beautifully filmed and a wonderful juxtaposition between total despair and hope for the future. All speakers provided the inspiration to begin our group tasks.

The conference then centered around time spent on formulating a group presentation and time learning and sharing about technology. Bootcamps on all manner of technology tools such as Mozilla's PopCorn Maker - a tool to mash up, enhance and share youtube videos and Infographic making were some of the sessions on offer. Not only did presenters share their use of these tools and give us time to play, but perhaps even more valuably we were able to share tools and how we use them with other teachers. iPad apps as well as Web 2.0 tools were discussed, played with and noted for the future. Networking at its best.
Kung Fu Web 2.0 was another way we shared, extremely briefly, our favourite tools - we pitched them for 2 minutes to a colleague and then they had 1 minute to ask questions. This is a technique I'll be using back in the classroom and also at Teachmeets. It was fun, made us think about the essentials and enabled us to learn more great tools to embed in our teaching.
The group task was probably the biggest challenge of the conference. Once teams were set we worked through the process which was divided into 3 steps:
1) The Brainstorm - How can we help each other - thinking of all the ways this can happen as educators.
2) The Pitch - Once an idea was agreed upon - we worked towards a 2 minute pitch to (and this is where it got really interesting) students. Reversely - students did the same and pitched to groups of teachers. We all gave each other valuable feedback. It was great to see in final presentations feedback that was given was taken up and incorporated.
3) The Animatic - This was a new skill for me - using the feedback and the original idea that was our pitch - and turning it into its next incarnation - part storyboard / part animation ... in preparation for a full video treatment.
Through all phases of the process we were given scaffolding - Alan Levine's work on Telling compelling stories was helpful - but honestly the process was for all of us quite challenging.
It was fabulous to see each animatic - student and teacher groups - presented on Day 2 and see the stories and idea forming.
Our final day found us again with the students. Placed into groups we worked through our perceptions and ideas about teaching and learning with emerging technologies - the students had so much to contribute here - they are the natural owners of the technology - and it was interesting to get their perspectives on how and when they themselves wanted to use technology in their learning. After discussion - students moved from table to table pitching our ideas for using emerging technologies to teachers in the room - the girls we worked with eloquently stated the case for using social media - I was really impressed with all the students' speaking abilities.
At the close of the conference we were treated to final films and presentations that only two days prior had merely been ideas. Inspirational. The range of issues covered and the sensitivity with which they were handled was awesome to see. With students like these I can see that the world's future is definitely in good hands.
The learning was special, the approach unique and the opportunity to meet and share the experience with like-minded, dedicated and innovative educators and students was once in a life time for me. Full of ideas I've headed home - collected my thoughts and hope to put some of the plans we made as teams into action - because flattening our world - connected across the globe to share experience, help each other and learn together is what education should be about.
Final presentations and more about the conference can be accessed at
Cherry Blossom photo:

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