October 2011
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This past weekend, I made the trip up to Bakersfield. It took far longer than necessary to drive there because, even at midnight, the 5 is clogged with traffic. I went to attend the KernCue conference. Although, it focused exclusively on the K-12 system, and I’m focused at the college level, I still had quite a bit of fun; and picked up a couple of interesting tips.

The conference was cheap ($30) and quite short: 8am to 3pm, lunch and breakfast included. (I paid $70 for the hotel, just so I wouldn’t have to wake up and drive). It had enough presenters for several tracks. I was only able to goto 3 of the talks. The ones that I chose to attend must not have been very popular, because each audience was only about 4 people, including myself. That’s alright though, because it really gives you the opportunity to ask more questions, and get more information.

One presenter, Craig Whitmore, has been working with Norris Middle School students, teaching them to program via scratch. A few of his student are there because they didn’t get the elective class they actually wanted. But that doesn’t deter him from showing them the magic of programming. He finds that everyone has fun, and the students tend to divide up among those that are really into the artistic aspect and those that enjoy more the computational aspect. Most students are engaged by the ability to author their own games. Some of the highlights can be found here. He also teaches the science class, and was able to use scratch to simulate organic compound mixing, and have students identify an unknown material via testing. Scratch was appropriate, because the school couldn’t afford the chemicals involved (and it lowers the danger). He also has a book about it.

Anything that can get students, no matter how young, creating with the computer is a great thing. So much the better if they get the programming bug.

Another presenter, Catlin Tucker, an English Teacher of Windsor School District, talked about how to ‘flip’ your classroom. The idea of flipping the classroom is basically getting the student to do the boring, individual study at home; and do the engaging group stuff in the classroom. Some of her techniques including running a collaborative online discussion, usually kick-started by a video and open-ended question (spurs opinion and debate). She’s got students posting 3-5 full-length paragraphs with argument and analysis of their positions without specifying length as a requirement. But how do you get students to do the reading at home? By doing something fun enough in the classroom that those who aren’t prepared feel left out, and are sentenced to Cornell Notes or other individualized material review instead. It’s really cool that she’s able to engage the students, but I’m not quite sure how these techniques will scale to a college intro class of 150 students.

The keynote speaker, Jon Corippo, was fantastic. He wasn’t afraid to yell and shout, emulating the raw excitement that 3rd graders can feel when really interesting in something. He had audience interaction, by demoing some teaching techniques, and giving away a $1 to someone that could produce an appositive phrase (proving that almost nobody knows what that is, how sad our education didn’t stick, it must not have been engaging enough to remember) He showed some educational games that can engage a whole class. He also showed how you can teach plot device through youTube clips of commercials (as any good commercial is a 30-second drama). It works really well to give students scaffolding for a problem. Boxes and lines to fill in. After analyzing some work that way, you can then ask them to create their own works. The scaffolding, which identifies essential components, now operates in reverse, instead of breaking apart for analysis, it’s used to synthesize and gather pieces together.

He spouted out a large number of online and free resources for those working on a budget. For about $60 for an AppleTV, you can connect the iPad2 wirelessly to a projector: a walk-around tablet! Also, edubuntu, freetech4teachers, edutecher app, goo.gl which has analytics! and more that I didn’t write down.

Although the K12 isn’t my focus at all, it was interesting to see the problems they face, and the solutions they’re trying. The people there were wonderfully excited to be together and sharing. The only unfortunate part is, how small the representation, given the size of Kern County. How many teachers aren’t interested enough to improve themselves?

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