A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of being the host of a wonderful teacher training session in Toronto Canada. This was the 5th annual conference of the ABEL (Advanced Broadband Enabled Learning) consortium, a group within York University that helps Canadian educators make the best use of the high speed internet that Ontario has built and offers to its schools (www.abelearn.ca)
ABEL was the first organization to take me up on my oft-repeated request to actually have students at teacher training sessions, not just as figureheads or people being interviewed by me, but as full participants. At ABEL there were 60 student delegates and roughly twice the number of adult delegates – not equal, but a good start. The goals were (1) to help the teachers and administrators realize just how much the students could do with technology without any guidance, and (2) to have the students and the educators see if they could work together on curriculum planning.
After my opening keynote, the students (all from high schools in the area) self organized into 10 teams, based on the technology they wanted to use. We had groups working on a podcast, a Wikipedia entry, a video, Educational Game finding (2 teams), a learning Flash game, U-Tube, MySpace, RSS feeds, and Google Earth. The kids’ assignment was to show the teachers what they could do and how they would like their lessons and homework to be different because of technology. The students had three 1.5 hour sessions in the University’s computer lab to get the job done. Many groups finished early.
In between those working sessions, there were a series of planning sessions with mixed groups of teachers and students around a series of ”big ideas” for new areas of curriculum.
The results were amazing. The groups that were planning curriculum each presented their ideas in a 1 minute “elevator conversation” and the group voted on the ideas they would fund. People reported that the teacher-student groups worked well, and identified unexpected issues such as “how should kids address teachers when they are working as peers?”
The conference ended with each of the 10 student groups giving a presentation to the teachers of what they had accomplished. This included fully built websites, podcasts, and videos, all with Powerpoint intros (the presentations will be put online at www.abelearn.ca ) . The grand finale was a group that challenged the teachers to a “Geography Duel” where the teachers were given atlases (“you guys are used to books”) and the students Google Earth, and had to answer some tough questions. While the results were, in fact, close in some cases, the students triumphed in the end by finding the exact distance between two cities in an instant (Google Earth has a tool for this) while the best answer the teachers could come up with their atlas and ruler was “7 centimeters.” (Read Article.)
Based on these real experiences I now suggest even more strongly that ANY conference about educating our kids have students represented in equal numbers!
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