Friday, April 12, 2013

TAIS Tech conference: Richard Byrne's Keynote Speech

The Tennessee Association of Independent Schools (TAIS) had a technology conference yesterday here in Nashville and I presented on "Kindles in the Classroom."  (Here is an outline of my presentation.)  I didn't really know what to expect of the day, but I had a great time, met some great people, and learned a lot of cool stuff.

First off, the conference was held on the very lovely campus of Christ Presbyterian Academy.  They were very gracious hosts and it was a great setting.

Richard Byrne was the keynote speaker.  He is a teacher and runs a website with free (or cheap) web-based technology for teachers.  I love it when teachers are the speakers because I appreciate the silly jokes, the visual aids, the stories from real classrooms and the friendly and open demeanor of teachers.  Looking around the room I knew I was among my people.  There is something foreign and off-putting when a doctor or a lawyer or a businessperson gets up to talk to teachers.

I want to take a minute to outline his speech and give you the ideas that grabbed me enough to make it into my notes.

The theme was the 10 challenges teachers face when using technology in the classroom.

1.  Access.  Richard told a great story about his newly adopted dog, Max, who has been getting into the garbage.  He faced a dilemma: lock the garbage down or correct the behavior?  This challenge awaits any teacher using technology in the classroom.  There are ways that students could be distracted to do naughty things when we give them technology.  Does that mean we should lock it down and build all sorts of contraptions to keep students out, or should we teach them responsible use?  You have probably guessed that I wrote a giant "YES" and triple underlined "Correct the behavior."  We keep talking about these students like they are playing with matches while sitting on top of a pile of gunpowder. We also seem to forget that we are all competent adults who use laptops every day and have found a way to resist the temptation of the internet and get our work done.  That is what they will become someday: responsible adults who learn how to focus and filter.  It is our job to guide them to that place.  They will never learn how to resist the temptation if it always locked away from them.  Let's stop treating them like hopeless delinquents who can never be trusted.

I said this many times yesterday, but within 4 years of having me as a teacher they will be at college with a laptop in front of them for 18 hours a day.  There will be no one circulating, asking them to turn off their internet or monitoring their usage.  What then?  Steak knives are dangerous too.  They have learned how to use them without inflicting bodily harm.  Devices with internet access will be the same way.

2.  Finding appropriate tech tools.  Richard had a great rule of thumb: if it takes him more than 7-15 minutes to learn a new tech tool, he won't use it.  That is a good way to prevent the rabbit hole syndrome where at 4 pm you go looking for a cool blogging site and at 9 pm you emerge with nothing to show.

3.  Differentiation.  I learned some cool tricks for Google searches!  You can narrow down what type of domain Google will search or the language level.

In general, differentiation is an area where Kindles have opened a lot of doors for my students. Richard is a history teacher, so research is his particular focus.  For me, the Kindle offers so many ways to change the look of a text to help a student read in the way that suits them.

4.  Help students become better researchers.  Lots of good sites to help students generate search terms.  Again, this is of particular importance for Social Studies teachers, but we do research in English as well.

5.  Give students a voice.  This was a really exciting part of the presentation.  Richard had some really cool tools to help give students a platform.  Padlet is like a digital bulletin board where students can add notes or posts more akin to blog posts!  That is right up my alley. Todaysmeet is a great way to create a chatroom and message board that can be used during or perhaps as a chatroom for students to discuss the reading from home.  Socrative is a really cool survey and questioning tool.  I can't wait to play around with these.

6.  Cell phones.  You can bemoan them, but I think they are driving the future.  What I liked were Richard's ideas about having kids use their phones to blog, shoot videos, and take photos.  He suggested having them do that on field trips, but since we don't take as many field trips in English class, I could think of having them do something like this for a project.

7.  Multiple learning styles.  Again, allowing e-books in the classroom is about opening up the options.  Richard likes Animoto, an online video editing tool.  This is great for us at a PC school.  The video editing software available is not awesome, so a web-based tool really appeals to me.  Make Beliefs Comix, allows students to create their own cartoons, something I have been considering for vocabulary practice.  Soundcloud helps students make and share podcasts, which is perfect for a project we do for Twelfth Night.  Simplebooklet allows students to create multi-media books online.  I love this idea!  This would be awesome for the Civil Rights project and the poetry project.

8.  Communication with parents.  Richard gave a really interesting statistic about emails and text messages.  95% of text messages are opened in 5 minutes, whereas 50% of emails are never opened.  I can see how that is true, but whoa.  One interesting idea he had was to use Voicethread to allow family to see and comment on the student's work.  What a nice way to build that bridge and give the student real feedback from people that matter to them.

9.  Professional Development.  There is a thing called Edcamp which are non-conferences for teachers.  Basically, they sound like meet ups for educators with no agenda, just ideas that come from the participants.  That sounds totally awesome to me.  I made some cool friends yesterday and I think we might be on our way to starting something like an Edcamp for independent school English teachers!

10.  I didn't write this one down.  Oops.  I am sure that Richard posted his notes on his blog, but I guess I was already thinking about my presentation following his key note.

Stay tuned for a recap of my session and reflection on how that went!


  1. Lucky that you got to attend (and present at!) that conference and that Richard Byrne did the keynote. He's very helpful, don't you think?

    Lately, I've been particularly interested in #8, communication with parents. Last year, I did a lot with texting. At first, I tried out Remind 101 and then settled on SmashText. My students' parents appreciated my outreach. (Few of them checked email, and most of them said that they wouldn't regularly check my class website.)

    Now I'm wondering how to use Google Apps scripts (like Form Mule) to automate texting for such things as absences and missed homework. I suppose the question will soon be, "How much communication is too much?" What are your thoughts?

  2. That's a good question. I think it's like the famous definition of pornography: I know it when I see it. When you or a parent feel like a line is crossed, you stop. For example, our school does not do an online gradebook. I have had online gradebooks in the past, and there were times when it became an invitation for line crossing. Even without an online gradebook, every now and then a parent crosses a line. I think at this point, since this is a developing area, we need to just figure it out as we go and communicate when it becomes too much. It's a new frontier!

  3. Being a business broadband in Australia user, I really find it amusing how technology has evolved into something quite useful.