The past five days have provided me with an amazing learning experience as I have attended ICOT 2018. With the conference just wrapped up and with Florida providing another remarkably wet afternoon, here are some initial reflections.
The highpoint of the conference for me (and I am sure many of the participants) has been the conversations we have had and the stories of practice we shared. It is reaffirming to hear that many schools are on a similar journey towards models of teaching that encourage students to become deep thinkers, critical readers of the world, globally empathetic and self-regulated learners. That this is happening on a global scale and that some of the best thinking in this area comes from practicing teachers is most uplifting.
The conference also allowed us to see some of the insights which are continuing to emerge from the field of brain science and MRI technology. Teachers have always understood the importance of building positive relationships with our students and of providing emotionally safe and supportive environments for our learners. If our students are not feeling cared for and safe in their classroom they are bound to struggle with any subsequent learning. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang’s research reveals to us the physiology of this relationship by showing how the parts of our brain which are triggered by emotional response are intricately connected to those we use for learning. Her book “Emotions, Learning and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience” has moved to the top of my reading list as I strive to better understand her research.
Another highlight was the opportunity to hear from and indeed meet Temple Grandin. Temple is an engineer, an inventor and a tinkerer. She has developed the equipment that is used to on a global scale to process cattle and is a Professor of Animal Science at CSU with numerous books in print. She also happens to be autistic and has used her insights to expand our understanding of the autistic mind and the minds of all those who do not fit the limited perspective that so many people hold. She shared how her love of cattle and animals, particularly dogs, her capacity and disposition for close looking and her experiences with playful tinkering led her to become the successful engineer she is today. She is a strong advocate for hands on learning and for respecting modes of learning which do not fall into the narrow models favoured by standardised testing and back to basics mantras of literacy and numeracy.
Edward Clap of Harvard’s “Agency By Design” encouraged us to see creativity not through the lens of the hero narrative of the creative individual but as the product of collaborative endeavours. Through this lens creativity becomes something which we are all able to participate in. To do this we tell not the biography of the supposedly creative individual but the biography of the idea. When we do this, we are able to see the contributions made by many and the evolution of the idea as a multitude of agents actors have contributed to its story. His book “Participatory Creativity: Introducing Access and Equity to the Creative Classroom” is a must read for any teacher interested in promoting creativity. If you listened to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk claiming that schools kill creativity and wanted to know what we might do to reverse that trend, Edward’s work is a great place to start.
On the final day of the conference we met Bruno Della Chiesa who shared with us insights into the great importance of us becoming multi-lingual, not so we may engage in economics on an international scale but so that we might come to develop an enhance capacity to understand language and culture. Amongst many pearls of wisdom, he shared that he does not think that multi-lingual and multi-cultural people make good soldiers, but that they do make better people. He encouraged us to move away from descriptions of self which focus on the sub-categories of humanity to which we belong but that focus on her belonging to the great collective of humanity. By shifting our focus from the regional or the national level we become open to seeing the commonalities across our languages and our cultures. Bruno’s presentation was overflowing with ideas and insights and will require additional exploration.
The great thing about conferences like ICOT is that you come away with fresh questions and wonderings to explore. The fun now will be to go back over my notes, dive further into some of the ideas shared and look at how these insights might inform my practice. While the conference has ended, the learning has just begun.
By Nigel Coutts