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Shadow Con: Extending Conference Learning

June 3, 2015 / by Kristin Gray

As attendees and presenters, we go to conferences to learn, share and improve our practice. But how much of what happens at the conference actually affects our daily work when we leave?

We've all been there. We attend a conference or professional development opportunity and leave with new ideas to discuss with colleagues, and teaching strategies to enhance the learning in our classrooms. Or, as presenters, we pour out our stories, learnings and resources to all the attendees hoping to inspire others and lift everyone to new teaching heights. However, for one reason or another, many of these amazing ideas never seem to make their way back into schools. And if they do, how will anyone else ever know?

Even more unfortunate, sometimes we don't have the time or funding to attend conferences, missing out on the opportunity to engage in the learning that happens there. If many of these amazing ideas never reach our ears, how can we learn and grow as educators?

A Conference Experience Like No Other

At the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) conference this past April, educators Dan Meyer, Zachary Champagne and Mike Flynn devised Shadow Con, an effort to change the way in which attendees, non-attendees and presenters interact before, during and after a conference. Between three hosts, six presenters, over 425 physical attendees and thousands of others online, it was a conference experience unlike any other.

Shadow Con was structured as a 90-minute conference session in which six speakers (I was fortunate to be one of them) presented on a topic of their choice for ten minutes. Each speaker was paired with a "live tweeter" who had the speedy job of tweeting quotes, pictures and basically anything they found inspiring during the talk under the hashtag #shadowcon15. This allowed participants from around the world the opportunity to be a part of the learning, in real time.

While all the presentations were permeated with inspirational messages to spark ideas and conversations on how we as teachers can provide the best learning experience for our students, they each ended with a unique "Call to Action." In the Call to Action, each presenter invited attendees, both physically in the room and virtually, to engage in ongoing conversations and work together to follow through on the message of the talk.

A Productive Twist

Through the Shadow Con website, presenters and attendees are able to take this conference session experience and continue learning with one another. This puts a productive twist on the way in which we, as both attendees and presenters, interact with conferences. Instead of simply leaving the conference inspired with a notebook full of great ideas, Shadow Con allows both presenters and attendees to continue to discuss and collaborate around the ideas presented in each 10-minute talk. It shifts the impact from the conference itself to what happens afterwards as a result.

If you weren't able to attend the conference or this particular session in real time, no worries, the hosts thought about that too. The individual talks were captured on film and are available on the session website. This allows the experience to be shared continuously, making the possibilities for educational conversations endless.

And here's a downloadable facilitator's guide I created for Shadow Con.

Ultimately, Shadow Con is a way for a conference session to begin a conversation, rather than being the beginning and the end of the conversation. I can imagine administrators sharing Shadow Con talks with their building teachers and vice versa, teachers sharing with colleagues in person and virtually, coaches/specialists sharing with their school or district PLCs, college professors sharing with pre-service teachers, teachers sharing with their local and state math departments and much more. After each of these interactions would be the opportunity to follow through with the Call to Action and to continue the conversation with the presenter.

The Shadow Con experience was unlike any other and an exciting way to begin to think about how we, as a collective group of educators, can come together to make amazing things happen in teaching and learning after every conference.

Topics: Professional Learning, Math

Kristin Gray

Written by Kristin Gray

Kristin Gray, a National Board Certified, 21-year veteran teacher of grades 5-8, is currently the Director of K-5 Curriculum and Professional Learning at Illustrative Mathematics (IM). She has served as a writer for the IM 6-8 math curriculum and as a Teaching Channel Laureate. Kristin has developed and facilitated mathematics professional learning at district, state, and national levels and presents annually at the NCSM and NCTM conferences. To reflect on her experiences, she blogs and connects with educators on Twitter, @MathMinds. Kristin has a B.S. in Elementary Education with a concentration in mathematics from the University of Delaware, a M.Ed. in applied technology in education from Wilmington University, and is the 2014 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

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