Paul Coelho said, ‘Sometimes you have to travel a long way to find what is near.’ This perfectly sums up my experience of attending the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (DENSI) in Chicago, USA. This week-long professional development and networking event brought together over 180 North American teachers as well as a handful from other countries, including 9 UK teachers. It was quite simply the most rewarding and energising professional development I’ve ever experienced. Here are some of the key things I’ve brought back home with me:
- Technology is about powerful experiences
Learning about the uses of virtual reality technology at DENSI gave me a very clear idea of how I wanted to use this to give children rich classroom experiences. We’ve got a converted double decker bus in our playground and, with the addition of VR kits, we’ll be able to take pupils on journeys all over the world and beyond. These are experiences that will reap rewards across the curriculum.
- Social media has a real place in education
There’s nothing quite like standing in a conference hall in America and telling everyone about a self-produced music video that your class have just put on YouTube only to see a blanket of phones being brought out instantly to watch it. Back in the UK my class were suddenly seeing a huge spike in views and comments from individuals across the USA. This class motivation would be hard to find in any other setting.
- Even the smallest of conversations can lead to big ideas
‘Small talk’ can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when you’re a tired teacher at the end of another busy school year yet it was random conversations in lunch queues and breaks between workshops where I picked up some of the best new tech ideas. Whether it’s using Padlet for class discussions or Go Noodle for brain breaks or Discovery SOS with digital media, my school now has a list of new resources and ideas to support our teaching.
- Far more unites us than divides us
It would have been easy to focus on the differences between the UK and American education systems and therefore miss just how much we have in common in terms of what we want to achieve and the challenges that we face daily. I found myself having far more in common with my American colleagues than I’d ever imagined. I’m continuing this feeling back at school by linking every one of our classes to an American class where they’ll be using technology throughout the year so that we can learn and share together.
- We’re not in competition with each other
We currently work in a system where it can be easy to think the opposite. DENSI showed me the power of community and how vital it is to support each other as professionals. I arrived home with a worldwide network of educators that I can call upon whenever needed – whether it be to ask advice about the best VR kit to purchase or simply to share a high or low of the week. DENSI showed me amazing technology but also taught me it’s definitely the people behind the tech who are the most invaluable resource we have in schools.