Bluffton School Symposium


I drove up with several other teachers to a little hamlet called Bluffton, Alberta today (Go on, Google it.  You know you want to.)  I watched a keynote, attended a few sessions and now I’m reflecting on my personal learning.  Since I was tweeting all day today to the hashtag #bltech, it’s very easy for me to go back and read what my thoughts were as I went about my learning.  Twitter is very handy for that.

After attending a conference of any kind I try to think about what my BIG THREE key learnings or take-aways were from the event.  Too many people try to take back EVERYTHING and then they feel so overwhelmed that they put it all away and the majority of what they learned is lost.  I’ve discovered the magic number of things to try and institute in my class or reflect on seems to be three.  Today I have one key learning and two ideas for my classroom.  So here are my Big Three from Bluffton, Alberta today.

#1:  George Corous – Keynote Speaker

George talked about the fact that we often get together to talk about technology but really it’s not about the technology as much as it’s about the learning.  Technology is no longer just a “tool”.  It is a medium through which we capture creativity, express innovation, engage ourselves as learners, and propel ourselves further into the world.

A teacher’s job is figuring out how to use technology in a purposeful way that captures all of this.  It’s not about “How do I make a YouTube video?”  It’s about “What will I use YouTube to create and display to the world?”  It’s not, “How does Twitter work?” it’s “How will I use Twitter to expand my world?”

George has a line in his keynote that he attributes to Dean Shareski:  If you think the internet is a place to go and look stuff up, you’re missing the best part.

#2:  The Book of Awesome

I found myself in a session that was about digital photography but one of the things mentioned captured my creative interest.  It was mentioned that out there is a project commonly referred to as “The Book of Awesome.”  I think it may have started with the ACTUAL Book of Awesome (a book about things that are simply….well…awesome!)

It’s basically a portfolio that kids put together of all the “awesome” things they have learned/displayed/done.  He was using a digital photography class to create a Book of Awesome pictures but my mind began reeling with other possibilities.

What if every kid had a Book of Awesome for their year?  It could hold entries like when they learned that cool magic trick.  The lunch hour they came up with a cool invention.  Yes, the pictures they have taken.  The song they wrote.  The moment they finally made their first basket from the free throw line.  The cool quote they heard.  When that math problem FINALLY clicked.  The best project they ever completed.  The best creative thing they ever produced.  The teacher that inspired them that day.  A current event that changed their life.  The possibilities are endless…..

A Book of Awesome…..

What a powerful thing to put together and have for student lead conferences.  What an amazing document of a year of learning!

#3:  Edmodo – A Tool for Collaboration

Ok, confession…..I’ve heard people talking about Edmodo forever.  But it was kind of like Twitter for me.  Until I actually experienced it for myself I didn’t see it as anything more than “just another thing”.

The presenter was talking about Edmodo mostly as way of disseminating notes and notifying kids about homework assigned and calendars of events but I saw the potential for something else, since I don’t really assign homework or give tests/quizzes.

Edmodo looks a lot like Facebook at the outset, which is probably why it appeals to so many of the youth in our classrooms.  You get an account as a teacher and create a group that the students can join.  But this is very private.  The teacher has full control over what is seen on the wall and who joins the group.

I see the collaboration possibilities and being huge with this.  It gives students a safe place to have an online community and possibly discuss answers to critical thinking questions, pose a thought or an idea to receive feedback, complete a poll as a method of starting a conversation, keep a calendar of events.

It wouldn’t really be a “social media” outlet per say, but rather a controlled environment (by the teacher) with a specific and intentional purpose.

Parents can get codes to join the group and see what their own child is doing without viewing any other information as well.  What a great classroom communication tool.  Parents and students can even send messages directly to the teacher through this device.  And if you set it up this way, the notifications can go straight to your cell phone.  (Pro?  Con?  Up to you…..)


My learning extended to a  great many things today but if I try to do it all then I’m going to feel overwhelmed.  So these are my thoughts on one take-away for myself and two items of interest for my classroom.  What a fabulous day.  Thank you to the teachers of Wolf Creek for sharing what they are doing within their own classrooms.  I’ve always said that as a teacher the most impact you can have within your profession is to simply share what you are doing with others.  Bluffton School put on a fabulous day and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it.


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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