I stole this idea.

Posted: September 24, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about this great idea I found on WhatEdSaid’s blog. It’s ok, she won’t mind. She even said so on her initial post. Anyway, here’s how she ended her post:

But how about planning a one day ‘conference’ on a theme that’s relevant to everyone? Or a grade level ‘conference’ day as a provocation for a new unit of inquiry?  What do you think? Can you help me develop the idea further?

Then another teacher took the idea and ran with it. I read that post too. Then I got to thinking about how I like conferences and wouldn’t it be great to do this. I got my grade level team interested and we were off. Well, not off quickly, but it was towards the end of the year and we were knee-deep in projects. But, this Wednesday, day 11 of the school year with back to school night the next day, we did it. We had a conference for the 5th grade.

It was fantastic and exhausting!

Our topic was: Who owns history? There were 3 sessions times, each with a theme: misinterpretation, artifacts, and story. During each session time there were 3-4 options for students. On Monday we introduced the idea to the students and they registered online using this google form. On Tuesday we finalized the groups and logistics, oh and finished planning all our sessions. When students arrived on Wednesday they went to the “registration table” to sign in and get their personalized session schedules and name tags just like at a real conference.

There are 3 sections and 56 students in fifth grade this year. For each session students mixed and remixed as they moved around. Some sessions were bigger than others and all could have used more time, but there was enthusiasm to spare and good learning happening too. As we had planned and organized sessions, we made sure that the big ideas we wanted to get across under each theme could come out in each class.

My personal sessions were as follows:

  • In Session 1: Misinterpretations– who is the hero and who is lost?
  • In Session 2: Artifacts–Egyptian artifact role play. Where do the artifacts belong?
  • In Session 3: Story–How can buildings and plants tell a story?
So, in session 1 I read a great book called Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. In it the boy finds a penguin at his door, goes to great length to return it to the south pole only to discover that the penguin was not lost, just lonely. We talked about how artifacts are mute, like the penguin, and cannot tell us how they were used or how old they are. Instead we must make inferences, which are sometimes wrong. We then went back and reread the book taking turns to “speak” for the penguin as different points in the story. I also read The Hermit Crab by Carter Goodrich.  In this book there is another misunderstanding. The hermit crab, while using half of an action figure for a shell, is mistaken for a hero who saves the flounder from a lobster trap. In this case, the misunderstanding is never corrected. We talked about how there could be all sorts of information we might read or see in museums or books that could turn out to be incorrect.
In session 2 I guided the students in a role play activity. Using symbaloo (which I have written about here) I collected links to various news articles about Egyptian artifacts from the past 10 years. (You can link to an active page here.)Most were not too long and addressed issues ranging from calls for the return of Egyptian artifacts to Egypt, to concerns about looting and security in Egypt, to the money brought in by big traveling exhibits, and the money spent by museums to keep up their collections. Students took on one of 4 roles: US Museum director, European Egyptologist, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, or Egyptian citizen. Then each group used the webmix to read and collect information, form an option, and back it up. We came together at the end to share ideas and “discuss” the issue from a given point of view. There is a lot to think about on this topic. Students only got a taste of the issue, but we can come back to this when we study Egypt later in the year.
In session 3 I again read some picture books to get to the point. I shared this book first: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith. It is new and not only beautiful, but has a lovely message. Grandpa Green is a gardener and as the story of his life is told the background is always of hedges and bushes cut into forms to illustrate the events. The final sentence says that although Grandpa Green is getting old and forgets things, “the important things the garden remembers for him.” At that point there is a double fold out page that shows the entire garden: a series of topiary scenes of his life. (At this point I try not to get weepy.) Students then had a chance to read one of two books. Angelo by David Macauley is about a plaster repairer in Italy. Angelo has never been a fan of pigeons as they do damage to his buildings, but finds an injured one who he nurses back to health and befriends. Angelo begins to slow down and just finishes his repair before passing away. When the scaffolding is removed the building is spectacular and looks new. However “only one thing truly was”–a nest that he has made out of plaster that says above it “per Sylvia, grazie, A.” (More potential for weeping here.) Here we see a building telling the story that the founders had in mind (stories of saints etc) and now having an additional story of Angelo and Sylvia added to it. Another grous read Tin Lizzie by Peter Spier . It is about a 1909 Model T Touring car and the families who live and work with it.

We ended with a quick gathering to share thoughts, show the students the evaluation form that we emailed to them to fill out, and to celebrate an exciting morning.

I was so exhilarated by the morning (that and a bit ragged). Once I go through the responses to the evaluation form I will share some highlights or lowlights as the case may be. I think the overall feeling of the morning was very positive. Next up, student led sessions, outside experts, TED talks, and new topics!

What new ideas have you heard or read about and then borrowed?

  1. maggie says:

    Amazing! Wonderful! Two lingering questions from me after this: given the labor of prepping for this experience were the student learning outcomes there; and what comes next. Do you hope to have a student-presented conference at some point – maybe open to the lower grade, their parents or to another school? Do you see the conference model as something you would like to repeat in one form or other this year? And, going back to my first question, is it a good investment of time to do so, do you think? I. an’t wait to hear what student feedback was like with this fantastic innovation. Brava!

    • mseiteljorg says:

      I think it was a good investment of teacher time for a couple of reasons.
      1. we really thought about what learning outcomes we wanted in advance and structured sessions with that in mind. So although each teacher did something totally different in each session, the big ideas we started with should have come through. (I will be going over the evaluation forms more carefully in the next day or so, but I’m pretty sure we got there, mostly.)
      2. There was a bit of a learning curve for us. So, next time it wouldn’t be all new. That said some of the silly logistics are just tedious, but worth it.

      I think it was a good use of student time as well.
      The conference ran from 8:30-11:30 with a half-hour break for snack/bathroom visits/class pictures. I think the ideas we presented would probably have been spread out over 2 or 3 class periods in the course of a week rather than one intense morning. It was a nice change to be able to focus solely on one topic for an extended period of time. Now as we move forward with our study of archaeology, we are at a different, hopefully more informed, place.

      After just a quick glance over student responses, many said make it longer. I think we, the teachers, would have felt less rushed if the sessions had been a little longer.

      I would love for us to do this again. It makes a great intro to a new topic, as we did. But it would also be great at the end of a unit. I would love to have sessions of different length so that we could have some shorter time slots for students and longer for outside visitors or other activities. I think including other grades or schools is a great idea. I would want to be sure that the topic was relevant for all.

      We have lots of pictures, taken not by me and therefore they are great shots, and I hope to be able to share a few when I write more about the evaluation feedback.

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