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#ModelSchools Was Awesome! Here's Why...

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Model Schools Conference Orlando 2016 Math Solutions

Currently I’m sitting at the Orlando International Airport, about three hours away from boarding one of my two flights home from the Model Schools Conference. Originally I had planned to instead attend ISTE in Denver, but this past February I was presented with the opportunity to go to and present at Model Schools. So, I decided to make the switch and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

Here’s a look at some of the presentations/keynotes I attended, as well as overall conference highlights.

Eric Sheninger, keynote: Eric’s keynote was based on the importance of bringing awe into our schools and classrooms (as opposed to operating traditionally while excitement, authentic learning experiences, meaningful technology integration, etc. only take place outside the school day). As usual, Eric expressed himself with a great deal of intensity. As someone who has seem him speak a few times prior, I appreciate the manner in which his style continues to evolve, as he incorporated impactful images, videos, jokes, and sentimental moments to “tug at the heart strings” and make his narrative that much more impactful. My main takeway was the idea that we shouldn’t hesitate to leverage the interests of our students to make learning relevant…For more, make sure to take a look at Eric’s latest book, Uncommon Learning.

Bill Daggett, keynote: The first full-day’s keynote was conducted by Daggett, and this was the second time I had heard him speak. (This past October I saw him facilitate an all-day session in Hershey, PA.) I admire the matter-of-fact way in which he discusses the problems facing our schools and how they can potentially be solved. One feature of the presentation was when he exchanged suit jackets with a much larger audience member to drive home the message that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to school reform. I was also pleased to see that he dedicated a great deal of time to speaking about technology/social media integration, and how our students can be the ones to teach us how to use these tools…Click here to explore books authored by Daggett.

Jimmy Casas, The Right People for Your School’s DNA; Driving Excellence Through Culture: One of the highlights of the conference was connecting with Jimmy, being able to pick his brain about leadership, catching part of his session on the hiring process, and then a day later experiencing an entire one-hour session on the significance of promoting a culture of excellence. In regards to the hiring process, my overall takeaway was the idea that districts should be thinking and acting as if applicants are doing them a favor by applying for positions, rather than the other way around.  For the presentation on excellence, I loved the way in which Jimmy constantly reminded us, “There’s a whole lot of average out there,” and sometimes it’s just the small tweaks that can help us to rise above the rest…To dive deeper into Jimmy’s work, check out What Connected Educators Do Differently, which he co-authored with Jeff Zoul and Todd Whitaker.   

Pernille Ripp, Would You Want to Be a Student in Your Own Classroom?: I first saw Pernille speak at this past year’s Edscape Conference, and to say I was blown away would be an understatement. She is someone who delivers her messages with a great deal of passion, but what makes her unique is the fact that she is currently in the classroom, in the trenches as a seventh grade Language Arts teacher. Therefore, throughout her speaking engagements, she constantly calls upon student stories/interactions from her time in the classroom. For me, what’s most interesting is despite the fact she’s experienced and well-read, she actively seeks to understand the points of view of her students, and she allows for their feelings and beliefs to shape who she is…For more on Pernille, check out her book, Passionate Learners.

Joe Sanfelippo, Owning Your Professional Development; Building Your School’s Brand: Joe is someone I have gotten to know very well over the past year, and during Model Schools I had the opportunity to experience two presentations in which he was involved. For the first session, Joe provided just the opening and closing, and six of his teachers spoke for the majority of the time on the ways in which they created the vision/framework for their district’s professional development model. Kudos to Joe for not only allowing for his teachers to dictate the direction of their own professional learning, but also for encouraging them to tell their story at a conference. The second session focused on the power of branding your district/school. Now, while I am already quite familiar with Joe’s work, I can honestly say I was floored by the energy and passion he brought to the room...Also, if you’re looking for a resource to dive deeper into what he does, make sure to check out Hacking Leadership, which he recently co-authored with Tony Sinanis.

Dwight Carter & Mark White, Five Steps to Better Classroom and School Design: Dwight is someone whose work I have followed for the past few years, and meeting/conversing with him was also another highlight of the conference. Recently, Dwight, Mark, and Gary Sebach co-authored What's in Your Space?, and the majority of the presentation was based on this book as well as the idea that schools need to change in order to reflect the needs of Generation Z. Here, what really stood out to me were the ways in which the inspiring and colorful images of unique learning spaces were used to tell stories. Also, Dwight and Mark spoke in such a way that made me feel as if it’s an absolute no-brainer for us to rethink the ways we design our schools and classrooms (which makes me really wish I was still a classroom teacher). After listening to them talk, there’s no way anyone could walk away thinking our desks should be in rows or any type of traditional formation. In fact, let’s explore getting rid of desks altogether!

Nikki Robertson, Makerspace Phenom: Nikki is a thought leader of the makerspace movement, and I was lucky enough to also meet and talk with her at length during the conference. In regards to her presentation, I enjoyed the energy/craziness she exuded, and it was obvious to me she brings this same personality into her classroom on a daily basis. I appreciated the way in which Nikki’s slides and narratives were full of authentic photographs and stories from her previous year in the classroom. And, at the same time, she made sure to dig into the specifics regarding how to get a makerspace up and running and how to establish a maker culture. Also, for about 20 minutes prior to her session, Nikki allowed for attendees to play with her mini makerspace/toys, which included: Spheros, Ozobots, Dash & Dot, Makey Makey, Osmo, and more!

My presentation with Tom Murray, Leveraging Social Media for Professional Learning: On the first full-day of the conference I had the pleasure of presenting with Tom on ways in which educators can use social media to personalize their learning. Not only did we emphasize the importance of educators having the resources/time to explore areas of interest and/or need, but we also talked about the significance of learning being on-demand, as opposed to being designated to specified professional development days. The majority of the resources were shown from Tom’s phone to hammer home the point that learning can take place anytime, anywhere. Some of these resources included: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Voxer, Pinterest, and Feedly. Also, we also made sure to crowdsource for resources/ideas/experiences attendees had to grow professionally…Make sure to check out Leading Professional Learning, which Tom co-authored with Jeff Zoul. Meanwhile, my first book, Hacking Project-Based Learning (for the Hack Learning series), which I am co-authoring with Erin Murphy, will be out in late 2016.

Along with these sessions, I should also give shoutouts to other educators with whom I enjoyed spending time during the conference: Daisy Dyer Duerr, Tech Ninja Todd, Nathan Lang, Chris Weber, Wes Kieschnick, and Chuck Gardner.

Now I can look forward to next year’s Model Schools Conference in Nashville, Tennessee!

If you’ve attended Model Schools, what are your thoughts? If not, how are you staying sharp this summer?

Connect with Ross on his blog and on Twitter.

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I am the coauthor of Hacking Project Based Learning, and the Supervisor of Instructional Practice K-12 in the Salisbury Township School District (1:1 MacBook/iPad) in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I am an Apple Distinguished Educator and a Google Certified Innovator. My passions are inquiry-based learning and quality professional development. I blog about these topics at rosscoops31.com. I regularly speak, present, and conduct workshops related to my writings and professional experiences.

When I am not working, I enjoy eating steak and pizza, exercising, reading books, playing on my computer, and provoking my three beautiful nephews. Please feel free to connect via email, RossCoops31@gmail.com, and Twitter, @RossCoops31.

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Guest Friday, 09 December 2016