BLC09: The Pre-conference

August 1, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Posted in Collaboration, Conference, Digital Storytelling, Presentations, Resources, Scratch | 1 Comment
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At the end of Helter Skelter you can hear Ringo (or John) shout, “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”  Well I don’t actually have blisters but last week at the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston I was learning and pushing my thinking so much all day for 5 days that by Friday morning I was thinking of that phrase at the end of Helter Skelter, as if my brain had blisters!  I have wanted to attend BLC for years and was able to this year so I signed up for the pre-conf as well as the conference. This post is about the pre-conference and I will share about the main conference in future posts.  So, in the mind-set of collaboration that was flowing around the Park Plaza last week, I’d like to share my major impressions, thoughts and moments.

The best part was meeting online friends and people I’ve followed for years face to face. Online collaboration and communication are wonderful, but when you meet and spend time face to face that relationship is enriched in a way that online contact can’t provide. I also met many new friends I look forward to collaborating with in the future. One new friend is Maryann Wolowiec, Project Manager for the new National Inventors Hall of Fame School in Akron, Ohio- in our initial conversation we found we both once lived in Hudson, Ohio but more amazing- one of Maryann’s daughters had my mother as her second grade teacher!

On Monday I attended a full day of Scratch training- how to use it as well as how Scratch is an effective classroom tool. We spent the day in Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten “room” in the MIT Media Lab. When I walked in it was almost like walking into Willy Wonka’s factory- a huge elephant suspended from the ceiling, plants, a Guernica reproduction, bins and bins of Lego parts, couches, work tables, … It was one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended because we discussed, learned, practiced and created in Scratch with a great deal of help and guidance. I worked hard, but the work was fun and engaging- the day flowed and seemed like it was over in a minute. This is  due to Mitch Resnick who led the day, but also the people he brought in who created the program and Minneapolis teacher, Kathy, who has used Scratch as a classroom tool for years. If you haven’t used Scratch, you should look into using it- last year I learned enough on my own to use it with students and it was easy to implement. They also have a new site/service ScratchEd which is new but already invaluable. I already viewed Scratch as a valuable tool for the classroom and what I learned is how to communicate to and show others that it’s not just programming or making games or interactive pictures but an engaging, creative, collaborative and easily implemented tool for students to use to collaborate, learn and show what they have learned.

Monday night I joined Rita Oates for dinner as she brought together about 12 people who would have otherwise dined alone, and idea she implements from the book, Never Eat Alone. It was a good meal with engaging conversations and I learned a great deal about the multi-faceted global collaboration service, ePals.

Tuesday I attended David JakesCapturing Stories, Capturing Lives: An Introduction to Digital Storytelling. I have dabbled in digital storytelling but haven’t implemented such a project with students to the depth I knew was possible. David’s workshop provided the depth I needed- not a tutorial on how to use PhotoStory (although he did provide some basics for beginners) but how to introduce, scaffold and manage a DS project with students. He also shared challenges that may be encountered and success stories and accompanying videos he has led students to create. It seemed we covered everything needed to get started as well as discussion and sharing from participants. As we learned different components David walked us through creating our own digital stories- I was able to think through and map mine out but a few participants completed their stories.  Like the Scratch workshops, it flowed and was over too soon. What I learned is that telling stories with images, music and words together is a powerful tool, can be easily modified to implement as young as with a Kindergarten class and it allows ALL students to express themselves. Digital stories are also “very easy to do poorly and challenging to do well.”

Also on Tuesday was Edubloggercon East described as, “a ‘collaborative conference,’ where the conference attendees help to build and create the experience.” Even though I was attending the BLC09 preconference sessions, I was able to drop in on some workshops and loved the afternoon Web2.0 Smackdown where presenters had 4 minutes to share a tool or website they have used. It was a truly collaborative event with many people contributing to the wiki, the presentations and organization- and it really works well! I also met many teachers I have collaborated with and/or followed over the years, such as Maria Knee and the Seedlings– Alice, Cheryl and Bob. What I learned from participating is that a conference can be collaboratively created and implemented by many and enjoyed by many more as well. It also gives people who collaborate and communicate frequently from a distance a chance to have fun face to face.

On a side note, it was wonderful to spend a week in Boston- I’ve lived here and near here in the past and now that I’ve visited many cities in Europe, I can say with certainty that it is one of the best cities in the world. Running along the Charles and around the Common and Gardens in the early morning, a concert in Jordan Hall and shopping on Boylston St (Apple store, Marathon Sports, Trader Joes, Staples, Borders to name a few) were some highlights of this visit.

That was just the pre-conference. That alone would have been worth the trip. Monday and Tuesday were stimulating and inspiring and were also relaxed as there were fewer participants than the main conference and the workshops were deeper at 4 hours each. The main conference days proved to surpass the pre-conf days in terms of quantity but held the same quality.


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  1. […] My reflections and links from the pre-conference sessions […]

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