This year there were 371 educators from 38 countries represented in Austin. The temperature in Texas exceeded 35 degrees on most days. On others, it climbed to 40. Not that we would’ve noticed because we were grinding away on our projects in the sometimes rather chilly air conditioned rooms. Regardless of temperatures, it is always great to connect with my New Zealand teacher-friends. Donna Smith is generally the first to spark an idea, and this is normally after a casual ten minute conversation.
In addition to the Kiwi connection, it is a really humbling experience to witness the stories of inspiration from across the globe. Some teachers are utilising the accessibility features in iPads simply to allow their students to communicate with them on the most basic level. Without these features, these students would be silent.
The hashtag for the conference was #EveryoneCanCreate. There was still an emphasis on coding, but the big drive was towards getting our teachers and students to be more creative, in the largest sense of the word. The point was made that conformity is easier than creativity. I’ll be challenging my students on this one: are they taking the easy road because it’s simply that- easy? And what about our own teaching practise? Are we doing what we’ve always done? As one of the presenters said, don’t confine your students to your style of learning.
After a full day of workshops, we broke off into homeroom groups. One of the first things we had to do was define what creativity means to us. So what would you say? What does creativity mean to you? For me, at its core, creativity has freedom and choice. It also has flexibility and courage to produce your ideas. The next thing I really took away from the creativity topic is that less is more. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. With the result, the Clips video I made (using the combined ideas from our project team, namely Donna Smith, JJ Purton Jones and myself) was clean and simple. We were pleased to see it up on the big screen as one of the nine examples used in the institute reflections on the last day.
The other big winner this year was surprisingly, Keynote. This app is no longer being used as a presentation tool. We saw the most fantastic movies, animations and inspiring ideas, all created in Keynote. The great thing is that our students are very familiar with the tool, now I’d like to get them digging way deeper into the capabilities of Keynote. In fact I thought I knew quite a bit about this tool, but there are so many as yet unused layers. This will be my mission over the coming weeks, to familiarise myself with the deeper layers. What I think was the best sharing session regarding the capabilities of Keynote was from Noah Katz If you have ever seen the graphic novel The Boat by Nam Le, this is the type of animation Noah is producing, along with his students. When I have more insight into how to do this, I will share. As I’m sure will my fellow ADEs.
Stephanie Thompson gave a fantastic spotlight session on using gender equality apps to track who speaks up in group work. She used equitymaps.com where you can download the app ($4.49: It’s a teacher app so only you need to buy it.) She found that when she started using these tracking maps, the boys dominated over the girls. You are able to chart the dialogue in group work, or in fact get the data about how much time you spend talking in a lesson. The point for group work is clear: Whose voices are not being heard? In addition, we might find that we need to develop the mantra of talk less and listen more. I wonder what the data would look like if we tracked school meetings?
But wait, there’s more! Who knew that Pages could be so exciting? My students have used the book template in Pages, but they tend to use the blank copy and work from scratch. No need to do so as all the templates are editable. Teachers can make use of smart annotation when marking, which magically anchors to the text, even if the student edits and moves text around. Hit presenter mode and the document transforms into a teleprompter. Add voice recordings and you can edit the audio directly in Pages. Mask photos with shapes for some really cool effects. To change colours, drag and drop the central dot in the colour wheel.
Next we went to a session which looked at Universal Design for Learning. They highlighted how important it is for teachers and students to get to know how the accessibility features work on our devices. This could potentially remove barriers to learning for some students. They recommended a book by John D. Couch called Rewiring Education: How Technology can Unlock every student’s potential.
Another great view, which I think will resonate with many teachers, is that digital natives do not exist. We need to actively teach digital literacy. How many times have we seen students happily producing digital work, only for us to be disappointed with the quality of the sound, visuals, or both? What I picked up is that teachers are taking time to teach these digital skills. The question is, if we stick closely to the curriculum, where do we fit digital literacy in?
John Danty of GarageBand fame was sublime. I’m no musician but even I felt inspired to investigate loops and smart drummer more closely. I’ll prompt my students to make use of GarageBand to create special effects and tracks to be used with their videos and podcasts.
We ended institute at Salt Lick BBQ, an authentic Texas experience. And a quick trip to 6th street for some of the best live music and jam sessions. My last trip was to fulfil my mission of buying some Texas boots for both Trevor Rubens and myself. I’m pleased to report: Mission Accomplished.
So finally, in sticking with the theme #EveryoneCanCreate, if creativity is higher order thinking, are we driving our students in that direction? And is our work allowing for courageous and flexible freedom to create?