Making Connections at TCEA

Today I’m in Texas at the DEN pre-conference event for TCEA along with a host of Discovery folks. Michelle and Chris have put together a day packed with presentations, success stories, and making connections with each other educators. We haven’t really gotten started yet, but I wanted to say two words about the room itself. I really do think that the environment affects the mind set of the people within it. It’s why I’m such a huge fan of the Catylst Ranch in Chicago. The environment promotes creative thinking and gets people talking. Michelle and Chris have done the same here. The middle of the table is filled with brightly colored toys and games, things to keep your hands busy, give you a creative outlet for your physical energy while your mind is busy making connections. There are pipe cleaners, Magnetix, stickers, puzzles and other such creative outlets. I’ll have to snap some photos of stuff people are creating throughout the day.

After a quick activity to get everyone acquainted together, Scott has taken the stage. He’s turned each table into a team and put them in competition with each other. Yes, he’s dividing up the room and watching them battle it out. There’s a series of 7 questions, and tables are trying to answer each correctly faster than the other teams. Questions include: How many languages are spoken in the United States? A search for “learning style” on Google returns about how many results? What percentage of fourth graders nationwide read below grade level? If you want to know the answers, email You can actually ask him any trivia questions that come to mind, he’ll be happy to accommodate.

The point is, our classrooms are getting more and more diverse. It’s a challenge to meet the needs of students with such different needs, without creating a separate lesson for every student. Often we know what we’d like to be doing, what we SHOULD be doing, but finding the time to actually accommodate every student is an incredible challenge. The first idea that Scott shared is the fact that many unitedstreaming clips have other language options. Either you can hear the commentary in a second language, or you can have subtitles in other languages appear with it. Very simple way to support ESL students, or even better, provide scaffolding for them.

Scott also shared a great tip for using Google’s translation tools. I’ve used these before to read websites in other languages, but Scott pointed out that it can also be used to take English websites and convert them to other languages. A few teachers pointed out that some students are using that to cheat during class. Instead of writing in Spanish, they’re writing in English and letting Google translate for them. Considering how easy this is to do, I wonder how teachers can create assignments that students couldn’t do this for. We gotta change with the times folks.

Great idea for showing the power of connecting people together. He put up photos of Evita Peron, Einstein, Freud and Booker T Washington. Without saying who they were, he asked who knew who 1 of them were, 2 of them, 3 or all 4 of them. Most people recognized one or two. Then, he gave people one minute to talk about it with people around them and see how many they can identify collaboratively. After one minute, most people were able to identify three people, many able to identify all four. It’s a very simple example of how powerful it is to connect people together and share their knowledge.  Credit where it’s due, he said he got the idea from a presentation by Warlick

Moving right along to ways to use online tools to communicate and share with each other. Very impressive, in about 4 minutes he has managed to cover blogs, aggregators, wikis, podcasts, and more. He used the Warlick, PodcasterCon, Room 208 discussion as a great example of how students are communicating far beyond the walls of their classroom. Very powerful stuff. Of course, when we’re talking about teachers connecting with each other, it all comes back to the Discovery Educator Network. Great stuff.
The rest of the day was spent sharing success stories, innovative lessons, and creative ways to use digital media to reach students.  Phyllis Mullane of El Paso shared how she’s using video clips to effectively communicate with students about STD’s (the gift you DON’T want to get).  Amy Elliott of Sherman ISD showed us some different projects from her school, but one stands out in particular since I was a kindergarten teacher.  They used Producer for windows to create a fantastic living alphabet book.  Students named each letter along with a few thigns that began with the letter.  Simple yet effective.  A crew from Austin ISD including Vanessa Jones, Susan Monohan, and Aurturo Guajardo brought a host of porjects they’ve been doing in Austin.  They showed some really simple ways to create digital books using iPhoto, demonstrate learning using Comic Life and a simple claymation project that emphsizes how effective unitedstreaming is. 
All in all, it was a day packed with learning and I think everybody made quite a few connections.  It set the tone for what looks to be a great conference.  A huge thank you to everybody who took the time to present as well as to Michelle and Chris for putting the event together.


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  1. Loren Nowak said:

    The idea that Scott borrowed from David Warlick is fantastic and one that I plan on using for some of the training sessions that I do with teachers. It truly shows the power of collaboration and that the knowledge of many outweighs the knowledge of one. Thanks for sharing this nice activity Steve.

  2. Loren Nowak said:

    Has anyone used both Breeze and MS Producer? How would you comapre them? It seems that they overlap a little…

  3. Loren Nowak said:

    One of our HS Spanish teachers uses the unitedstreaming Spanish clips that are geared toward the elementary level so that the vocab is on target with student skills and comprehension. Since unitedstreaming is free to SC schools, he has a no-cost skills reinforcement tool to use with his students. He’s a big unitedstreaming fan!

  4. panasianbiz said:

    I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. This sounds like a fascinating and stimulating venture. As a creative writer, as well as an educator, I love the spirit that seems to direct this conference.

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