TeachMeet: Placing teachers in the box seat of professional learning

The title of this post was from a comment Brett Salakas made to me after yesterday evening’s  #TMgegsyd (stands for TeachMeet Google Educators Group Sydney). He added: “We ask students to have agency over their own learning so TeachMeet is a vehicle for teachers to do just that … it places them in the box seat”.

Each week Brett and Kimberley Sutton, both teachers at St Kevin’s Parish School in Eastwood host the popular one hour Twitter chat forum #aussieED on Sunday night at 8.30 pm AEST which has a reach on average of more than 251K people. It has been going for just over a year. This TeachMeet was the second one held at Google HQ – thanks to Leanne Cameron and her team from ICTENSW who brokered the arrangements. Around 120 teachers from primary and secondary schools, school principals, consultants, computer co-ordinators and the odd teacher educator or two, attended.

aussie edFor those not familiar with the TeachMeet format. It is a fast paced way to experience, in a 90 minute session, what some teachers are doing with technology enhanced learning in their classrooms. The idea, according to Chris Betcher originated in Scotland: “Teachers wanted a space to come together in a non-structured way to talk about practice – what is working/what isn’t – these are the kinds of conversations they want to have”. The format is usually a series of 2 or 5 or 7 minute presentations. It is pretty didactic – interaction with questions and so on comes afterwards – some teachers I spoke to said they prefer a flatter structure were teachers sit around a table with their ideas and it’s a reflection fest.

See the link to what was on offer last night here.

Few of the highlights:

Image 30-04-2015 at 9.10 am
Google HQ foyer in Sydney

In the opening session Sally-Anne Williams, Engineering Community and Outreach Manager from Google focused on the importance of STEM learning and students studying computational science – each year in Australia we produce around 12,000 computer science graduates only 4000 of them are domestic students. This kind of data is recognised in recent reports from our Chief Scientist.  Sally- Anne shared details of her recent trip to St Louis, USA for the First Robotics World Championships.

She mentioned the extraordinary robotics team from Blacktown Girls High School: see the video of them in action here. Sally-Anne is very hopeful that engineering is becoming a popular career choice for young women.

Google’s site reliability manager in Sydney, Gordon Rowell, had a series of fascinating slides about what occurs when Google cables break … it happens rarely, BUT an engineering solution must be found quickly … so the show can go on.

BlacktownClare Kinnane introduced us to Verso a new tool for student engagement – I am a bit skeptical about such tools but this one is worth a look. Then, Chris Betcher shared the Constitute Project – great for teaching civics and citizenship and for comparing constitutions of different countries. Amazing! I can see great possibilities for this project within the new syllabus.

#wespeakcode from James Oliver provided a useful resource for teachers who don’t want to leave the classroom with their students – they can call on James and his team from the Powerhouse Museum (now known as the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences ) for support with teaching students how to write code via videoconference.

Next presentation was Kelly Hobson who had every person in the room engaged in Get Kahoot, it’s an SRN that is great for creating quick quizzes to reinforce key concepts in a subject.

Thank you to Tony Britten

John Drake uses computational thinking with his mathematics students in the Bebras Challenge.

Rob McTaggart stressed the importance of digital citizenship and how teachers, schools and parents might think about issues of cyberbullying and safety online.

Tony Britten, an English teacher who never fails to capture his audience, provoked us with wonderful examples of digital poetry, and the perils of PowerPoint and how to turn it into a learning tool for students.

The last presentation was from Zeina Chalich whose work I have been following for a while now – Ziena is really moving her thinking in technology enhanced learning to the whole MAKING area – she suggested ‘pop up’ maker space at schools and linked these ideas back to Piaget and to Richard Florida’s work on creativity as the site for the new economy.

WOW – it was a head spinning 90 minutes of non-stop teacher PD.maker

Afterwards I spoke to a couple of teachers about why the TeachMeet formula is so successful. The growth of such teacher led PD world-wide is exponential. It is being researched.

Jola Czerwonka, TAS teacher and computer co-ordinator from Strathfield South High School explained: “It’s about teachers coming together to hear different perspectives – there are many lateral ideas at these sessions and you discover other ways to solve problems of motivation and engagement in student learning”.

A primary school computer support teacher from Lindfield Public School, Peter Brock, whose daughter coincidentally had just returned from the St Louis robotics event, advised: “In 90 minutes you experience a range of PD – it is a whirlwind, but you can follow up on what appeals afterwards”.

STEMI have been to one other TeachMeet – and that was a few years ago now. I was impressed with this teacher PD driven by teachers for teachers in their own time. As Kimberley Sutton said: “Its authentic PD, it creates opportunities for networking and collaboration”. It is a time for teachers to do some thinking and practising together. The best part she said: “Is when we can talk to other teachers – meet other teacher tweeps f2f – really discuss what we are doing in the classroom – it’s a very powerful form of PD”.

Thank you Brett and Kimberley for the opportunity to attend #TMgegsyd – it was a SOLD OUT event. There is a TeachMeet website and many Australian universities are using the format for pre-service teachers. Placing teacher agency in the box seat – I like it.