Random Thoughts

Overwhelmed and loving it!

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A successful Flatclassroom Conference: Check!

Caught up on grading PSU Grad course: Check!

Caught up on Wetpaint Duties: Check!

Finished teaching first Sat. Grad course with Kim: Check!

(Oh…and a full time job as well): Check!

Completely over-stretching myself: Check!

I’ve had a few blog posts rolling around in my head since I got back from the Flatclassroom Conference and have been chipping away at my to do list to get to a point where I can relax, reflect and start writing some of them down.

The Flatclassroom Conference was an amazing experience. First, it was a conference about students working together….project based learning on a global scale. The interesting part of the whole experience is that what Vicki and Julie put together for the weekend conference isn’t anything that could not be done in any classroom anywhere in the world. It came down to one simple formula:

Empower the Students

It didn’t have to do with technology, it had to do with thinking. It was about giving students a task that was larger than themselves, it was about creating relationships with others from different countries, cultures, and continents and producing something to share with the world.

It was a flat experience.

Just how powerful of a moment was this, to have students from around the world not just gathering anywhere, but gathering in the Middle East? So powerful that Thomas Friedman Skyped in to kick off the conference and Don Tapscott Skyped in to end it. Two great thinkers on the changing nature of our society today helping to frame the experience for myself and the students.

My Take away

In November I wrote a post titled: The reason for f2f in which I started thinking through the reasons we meet face to face to learn. If information is now accessible freely and instantly, why do we still come together in a classroom, at a conference, or at Starbucks for that matter? How do we use our face to face time in a way that is productive?

What I took away from this conference is that working face to face is valuable when we are put in a situation that allows use to create, produce, or solve a problem. Meeting for meetings sake can be done on the web, and we can meet on the web to produce something or solve a problem, but there is a different aura that happens when you are in the physical presence of those you are working with.

In our classrooms, are we using our face to face time to truly engage students in something meaningful? Something larger than one person could create, produce, or solve on his or her own? Are we using our time to, as Chris Lehmann puts it, build wisdom?

I have a feeling this will be a recurring theme for the next couple of months as I continue to think through just what we’re doing in the classroom and how moving content outside the walls leaves room to truly do some amazing learning.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


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  4. I am currently struggling with this as I create contrived projects. How do you go global when you teach say Biology or Chemistry that has tons of content to slog through? Not an excuse, but a reality as time is a factor and curriculum expectations has not changed. Even those of us bucking for change and using inquiry in teaching process over content find it difficult to finish. I want to connect students – genetic differences, ecology viewpoints? Still thinking what can be done in a small time frame.

    Your last few paragraphs resonate with me. Using face to face time to create something meaningful… Is is just meaningful to me, or to them…

    • Louise,

      I think Project-Based Learning can be used in any class in any content area. There are a lot of issues in the world today that I think you could fit into a Biology or Chemistry. Looking at the science research that is coming from around the world.

      A quick Google News search http://tinyurl.com/cye5jh and you have what is being discussed about Biology. Like the wild fires in CA a few months ago and what researching are learning about the land, and how some are calling it a good thing. Why?

      We need to teach content through these experiences. No not every student can fly to Qatar, but ever student can learn about Biology and what is happening in the field around the world, and maybe why water tests in Africa are important, and drilling for oil in the middle east and the impact on the area is starting to show it’s wear.

      Just some thinking. 🙂

  5. Jeff, thanks for your continued inspiration. However, I cringed a bit when I read, “…what Vicki and Julie put together for the weekend conference isn’t anything that could not be done in any classroom anywhere in the world.” Teachers need to know that it takes years and loads of support to get to where Vicki and Julie are. Change is a journey and we do a disservice when we leave folks with the impression that this is something everyone can do if they just put their minds to it, or, is something that can be done as a first foray into project based learning. Without support, I don’t believe I could create a project like that (in my inclusion classroom of 28 fifth graders), and I have been working at this for years!

    • Elise,

      What I was referring to in that statement was the ability to empower student in the learning process. That’s really what the conference was about. It was about good teaching practices. It was meeting with a purpose. It was engaging students in solving a real world problem…or at least researching it, and coming up with what they think a solution might be. That, I believe, is just good teaching and can be done in every classroom.

  6. I have followed the experience of students at the Flatclassroom Conference through Vicki’s Cool Cat Teacher blog posts. I was very impressed! What a powerful experience for students and teachers alike. Though a teacher of English/LA for seventh graders, I find myself wondering if the maturity of my students could handle such an experience. (I want to find a HS English teaching position and connect my students ((and myself)) to such an experience.)

    • Jen,

      There were 7th and 8th graders at the conference, and I’ve seen other project-based learning models like this use in the middle school very successfully.

      This project was done by two 7th grade Science teachers:


      The same concept, in their school, looking at global environmental problems through a project.

      • In our school system, students do not receive a formal technology education until they reach high school. It is really an injustice for our students. What I introduce them to in my classroom is a first for many of the students. Though perhaps half of the students have internet access at home, they still have trouble understanding how to use email and its features.Our school has a long way to go to even touch upon the features of web 2.0.

  7. Jeff,

    Thanks for the reply. I actually am using Inquiry and Project based learning in my class. We also look at the world and health of the people through the Biology lens. Maybe I am thinking too big, but a project with other global members could take so much more time to do something right versus just a sharing of information. It really is a curricular issue with the amount of content that makes even the use of PBL/Inquiry difficult.

    • I agree….as long as our schools focus on content…content that can be learned “just in time” instead of learning “just in case” we won’t find the time to focus on the skills of actually using, analyzing and creating bigger projects.

      Setting up global projects are difficult do to time zone issues. That is where a wiki comes in nicely as you do not all have to be on at the same time. I find the hardest part of doing a global project is actually finding other schools/teachers who are willing to do a project with a class here. Making the initial connections is the hardest part. Finding educational communities like the Classroom 2.0 Ning is the best way to get connected. http://www.classroom20.com

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