My wife hasn’t been to the annual MACUL conference in many years. There were many reasons; she was laid off for almost 4 years, as an art teacher the big “ed tech” conference can be hit or miss, but mostly it’s because I suck as a “conference buddy” when it comes to MACUL. My interests cover the entire education spectrum, so when I attend MACUL it’s difficult for me to stick to a particular “track” or session topics that the average educator might be drawn to. Add to that my many hours of volunteering, and a desire to speak to just about everyone I bump into, and I’m probably one of the lousiest conference companions at MACUL.
So it was with much fanfare and excitement that she attended the conference, after nearly a year of teaching full time again. She built up an impressive list of conference sessions that fit her interests, and braved the crushing crowds of more than 4,500 educators. She came away with a sense that both teaching and MACUL have grown to be many new things for her, and I wanted to share her thoughts with a wider audience. She left the conference energized, and has implemented several new learning practices, not just tech tricks, into her classroom in the last few weeks. If you enjoy her reflection, and want to say “thanks”, considering chatting her up on Twitter (@nikkapotamus).
Random Thoughts on MACUL 2014 from one Art Teacher’s Perspective:
I had a great time at MACUL this year. I haven’t been to this conference in a few years, and it was time to get back to it. This year they offered a great MACUL Conference App and I was able to schedule all of my sessions before I ever set foot in GR. And it just so happened that I scheduled myself for sessions that all flowed together in this great cosmic inspirational message.
Nick Provenzano talked about Genius Hour. It’s brilliant. I’ve been doing this with my kids since January and they absolutely love it. One thing that I was really struggling with was, “how can this be acceptable learning in the classroom?” I mean, I’m not teaching them anything from the curriculum, in fact, I’m not teaching them anything. Can I get away with this? After listening to Nick speak, I realized that this is really my favorite kind of learning. As an art teacher, I’m free to let students explore ideas and medium that they won’t have access to in other classes.
Rushton Hurley emphasized this point in his talk about creative learning. What’s the point of teaching kids about things that have no direct influence in their lives? You have to make connections! Genius Hour is all about connections. They take their interests and make it BIGGER; they start with something they KNOW, and then they learn more! This topic is so interesting, that they begin to take it upon themselves to learn. The students are learning how to teach themselves. Those students who I thought would never “get it” are starting to “get it.” Kelly Tillman discussed the merits of publishing their works for everyone to see. When we publish the works, they have a bigger audience. If I, as the teacher, am the only one who sees their work, what’s the point in making it awesome? But, as Rushton pointed out, if the students know they will be sharing this with a bigger audience (think global!), then they go from how do I get by to how do I make this GREAT!
Tricia Fuglestad and Janine Campbell reminded us that when students take on the added burden of teaching each other, they retain more. These two ladies showed examples of student made videos and blogs that other students will watch and read. Not only creative learning, but creative teaching is happening here. I already know this stuff, let’s let the students lead the discussion.
And then, in one of the most amazing sessions of the week, actual educators, you know, those people who are teachers and had to make sub plans for 2 or 3 days to make this conference and weren’t getting paid to be there, showed up and talked about their passions. Trevor stopped the audience with a simple reminder: let the students know you are human too. Share yourself with these brilliant young people. You never know which one of the thousands of things you say will stick with them. Say you are sorry, say thank you, and tell them when they do something that blows your mind. David told us about his childhood and how he is letting that affect his teaching and his connections with the students. By sharing your own passions and experiences, you are sharing your wisdom.
As I’m typing this, I am having an epiphany. Teachers in the last 20 or so years have been taught that we are only to teach to the test. We have to succeed in making these little people shine on a single piece of paper. But for thousands of years, the best teachers were the ones who had discussions with students. Shared stories and their wisdom and knowledge because that was how brighter minds evolved. As people, we passed on our stories in the hopes that there was a moral that the next generation would learn from. As a teacher, I think many of us have forgotten that in recent years with all the pressures we are under to perform well.
But how can students care about any of that unless we show them how excited we are to be teaching it?
Let’s remember why we are teachers. Show them your passions. Let them in on some secrets that they will remember for years. If that passion is making music videos to teach the color wheel, cool. If that passion is dance, work it into a lesson now and then. If that passion is juggling, have the students take a break from learning the Pythagorean Theorem and throw a few beanbags around. They will remember those moments and maybe, just maybe, they will pick up some knowledge along the way.
Thanks to Trevor and David for inspiring me to become a better person in the classroom, not just a teacher with a bunch of tech tricks.