10 great ideas from Ditch That Conference #DitchCon2017

Ditch That Conference focused on the digital/analog balance, collaboration and the power of best practices. Check out some of my top takeaways from the day.

“An analog conference for a digital world.”

Ditch That Conference 2017 was a hit, helping educators think about the face-to-face/digital balance and providing TONS of ideas on how to make it happen.

This was the first conference of its kind and truly a dream for me. I got to imagine an event, organize it, recruit the best presenters I could, invite people to join and execute it.

The conference was held at Turkey Run State Park in Marshall, Indiana, but more than 300 people claimed virtual tickets to the event, giving them access to session videos.

If you didn’t get a chance to join us in person or virtually, here are some of my highlights. I tried to attend parts of as many sessions as I could, and here were my notes:

Click to see full-size image. (Just realized how NOT profound that last statement was: “Jed drew a face on a walnut and gave it a face …”)

1. Take a walk “artside” for inspiration.

Jed Dearybury (@mrdearybury1) led participants through the beauty of Turkey Run State Park to show them how lesson ideas were everywhere. They talked about how leaves and walnuts could be the inspiration for student work. They found wooly aphids (even though they didn’t know that’s what they were at the time), prompting the idea of a student-created story about them. Students could create stop-motion animation videos with mobile apps (here are some that would work) with what they found.

Click to see full-size image.

2. Use the “chair challenge” to incorporate STEAM in class.

Interested in bringing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) into class? Matt Johnson (@EduCaptAmerica) modeled a lesson with the “chair challenge”.

Participants got 10 pieces of paper, one yard of tape and a stuffed monkey. They had to craft a chair for the monkey that would stand at least 10 seconds that got the monkey at least 8 inches off the ground.

Everyone in the room was engaged in the activity. It promoted problem-solving, creative thinking and collaboration.

Extension of the activity could include more information about monkeys (science), discussion about creating stronger chairs (engineering), making the chair aesthetically pleasing (arts) and more.

Click to see full-size image.

3. “My favorite way to teach is NOT to teach.”

This message from Sean Fahey (@seanjfahey) resonated with his participants immediately. Instead of using a teacher-imposed line of thinking, Sean encouraged participants to think of ways to let curiosity and exploration drive learning.

He suggested a general method for doing this:

  • Start with a thought-provoking question, image or situation
  • Let students brainstorm and work within it
  • Check for understanding
  • Then explain

This is kind of backward from how we often teach — teach them, check their understanding, then let them work/explore.

Click here to see full-size image.

4. EVERYONE has the ability to connect their students to the world.

Gina Ruffcorn (@gruffcorn13) teaches at a small school district — where enrollment K-12 is less than 400 students! She is the ONLY fifth-grade teacher.

Gina routinely connects her students to people, places and experiences all around the world. They do virtual field trips, get guest speakers and collaborate with other classes. They’ve interacted with people from Florida to the United Kingdom to Kenya.

She encouraged any teacher — especially those in rural areas — to give students access to these rich experiences. You don’t have to be a super teacher, she said … everyone has the ability to get their kids connected. One resource she suggested was the Microsoft Educator Community (education.microsoft.com) and the Skype in the Classroom site (SkypeInTheClassroom.com) within that community.

Click to see full-size image.

5. Shift the power of learning to your students with fishbowl conversations.

Joy Kirr (@joykirr) had participants thinking and discussing from start to finish of her sessions. She encouraged them to take risks and to give students time to practice.

One concrete idea she shared from her own classroom: fishbowl conversations. They’re held at a table in the middle of the room. As students work, they can stop and have a conversation with peers about an issue with multiple possible answers/sides. Because it’s held at a table in the middle of the room, it’s easy for others to eavesdrop on those conversations (or join them!) so that everyone can benefit.

Session resources: tinyurl.com/ShiftCulturePres

Click to see full-size image.

6. Stimulate thinking with design-thinking-based challenges.

Students learn how to solve problems by solving problems. Chad LeDune (@Mr_LeDune) encourages student learning with STEM-based challenges. He even combines them with other subject areas.

Challenges Chad has tried:

  • airplanes
  • mousetrap vehicles
  • wind turbines
  • bridges
  • towers
  • catapults
  • buoys
  • thermal insulators
  • water rockets
  • package design

Help students decide on a product. Add any necessary rules and instructions. Then, walk them through the design thinking process to create something. (Here’s an example of the design thinking process by Launch authors John Spencer and A.J. Juliani.)

Session slides: https://goo.gl/SxRtf5

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7. Don’t leave out the reflection.

When working with students OR teachers, having time to process it all and apply new ideas to their current ways of thinking is crucial. Evan Mosier (@emosier3) led a session for teacher coaches/leaders and talked about some ways to do that.

Giving teachers time to talk about what they’ve just learned can be great. Replacing student reading logs with reading blogs made an important adjustment from compliance to reflection.

Click to see full-size image.

8. Our intelligence does not determine our success.

Kim Strobel (@strobeled) introduced participants to the idea of growth mindset. We can encourage students not to identify themselves with how smart they are but what they can become with some effort.

Such a small percentage of success in life is determined by your IQ score, Kim told participants. If that’s the case, then we all have the potential to work for and craft the future we want to see.

Everyone has his/her own “zone of genius,” she said. Helping students see it and thrive in it can be empowering.

Click to view full-size image.

9. Take time to look at your “Innovator’s Compass.”

Tara Martin (@taramartinedu) put her unique spin on Ela Ben-Ur’s Innovator’s Compass in a very introspective session. Among the questions she asked them:

  • Who are the people you serve? Who do you value, personally and professionally?
  • What is your current reality, professionally and/or personally? How does it look, sound, and feel?
  • How do you know you just ROCKED the day? What has to take place for you to say, “I OWNED that!”?

10. I’m so glad I get to teach!

We’ll end this list with a little fun! Jed Dearybury (@mrdearybury1) wrote a song called “I’m So Glad I Get to Teach” to the tune of “It’s a Small World After All”. He performed it at the end of his lunch keynote — and I got to back him up with the guitar! It was a lot of fun!

Most of the song is available on video through this tweet from Stephanie Cullotta (thank you Stephanie!). Go check it out!

Question: How do these ideas resonate with you? Which one speaks to you most, and what does it say? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!

Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

 DateEvent / Event DetailsCity / More Info
+ 10/03/2017—10/04/2017
"The Digital PIRATE - Ditch That Textbook" 
  Private Event
+ 10/06/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
GooglePaloozaVandalia, IL
 Sponsor:ROE #3 
+ 10/14/2017
7:30- 4:00 p.m.
Suffolk Excellence in Education Conference (SEEC)Suffolk, VA
  Private Event
+ 10/23/2017
8:30-3:15 p.m.
Show-Me Curriculum Administrators Association SMCAAOsage Beach, Missouri
  Private Event
+ 10/30/2017
8:00-3:30 p.m.
Sedalia School DistrictSedalia, MO
+ 11/07/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
Goshen Local SchoolsGoshen, OH
  Private Event
+ 11/15/2017
NIESCPlymouth, IN
 Venue:Christo's Banquet Center
830 Lincoln Hwy E
Plymouth, IN 46563
Private Event
+ 09/29/2017
8:30-3:15 p.m.
Meaningful Tech Workshop-Cleavland, OHIndependence, OH
 Venue:Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County
Essex Place, 6393 Oak Tree Blvd
Independence, OH
Register to attend

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