The third annual Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools conference drew more than 400 educators, IT directors and curriculum integration specialists to Los Angeles, in the shadow of Universal Studios April 22-26. The first conference to focus on technology directors at private K-12 schools, ATLIS boasted workshops, school tours and an AR/VR RV.
I’ve been to my share of technology conferences, many of which focus on the tools, the best apps, the newest software. While there were definitely a few sessions at ATLIS that covered those Top 5 lists, most of the discussions centered around something much bigger.
Practically every session I attended focused on student agency and creation. Even several random conference conversations over massive chocolate chip cookies included goals for the school’s maker culture and promoting rhizomatic learning.
Design Thinking is where you start
From “how might we” questions rooted in empathy to prototyping solutions, students learn problem-solving alongside content when classrooms use design thinking. Design Thinking has been featured in conference sessions, and Twitter chats for awhile, so we’ve moved past explaining Design Thinking to applying it in the classroom. Dawn Berkeley, educational technology coordinator at St. Albans School, and Lauren Marold, lower school computer science and engineering instructor from Greenhill School, took session participants through the Stanford d.School model to identify a problem specific to their respective school and then prototype using paper, pipe cleaners and other making accouterments.
Even outside sessions with Design Thinking in their titles, the principles of iteration, empathy and prototyping were rampant.
Find ways to showcase student work
Jared Colley, an English teacher at The Oakridge School, shared a collaborative project that prompted students to analyze themes of novels and short stories with classes from other schools. The various schools created a colloquium where students submitted session proposals related to the themes they were discussing, and collaboratively fine-tuned each presentation by passing blog posts, audio files and video critiques asynchronously. No longer was the teacher solely reading through stacks of papers on the themes of James Joyce’s Dubliners — students knew there were peers from other schools reading and commenting on their work, and finally watching the final presentations.
Digital portfolios are another way faculty members are helping students showcase their work while also creating a valuable digital footprint. Three department chairs from Chandler School, Pete Carlson (math), Ashley Laird (English) and Nathan Mook (social studies) talked about how they worked together to have students create portfolios of their work, showcasing cross-disciplinary projects. For example, a discussion about fonts used for their theme led to a dialogue about how typefaces were used throughout history. These skills and projects continue to live and grow through the portfolios as the student progresses throughout their academic career.
We aren’t done
In the opening keynote, Google Education Evangelist Jamie Casap said that we shouldn’t ask students what they want to be when they grow up. To “be” something suggests there is a static, end goal. Instead, he suggested we ask what problem they want to solve. A problem that can be approached from different angles, and evolves as the student learns and grows. That’s how we prepare students for the shifting pathways to success they are bound to encounter.
The closing keynote from National Association of Independent Schools Chief Innovation Officer Tim Fish took this a step further. Using the analogy of climbing a mountain, how do we shift from simple day hikes that get us started thinking differently, but bring us back to the bottom of the mountain until the next project? How do we create students who love the climb, and not just the summit? Because there will always be another mountain on the other side.
If you would like to know more about ATLIS, check out http://www.theatlis.org/.