Top-5 Take-Aways from MACUL 2013

This past week I attended MACUL 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. It was an amazing experience, put on by even more amazing educators. Every session was filled with ideas to bring back to the classroom and enhance the teaching, learning, and professional improvement. Below are the top-5 takeaways from my experience.

Take-Away #5: the battleground for the classroom is grass roots content vs. corporate content.

Presenters shared resources where teachers could take control of the content in their own rooms. In one session on CK-12 flex books, a resource which allows teachers to download textbook templates, then modify them to perfectly fit their classroom experience. The room was filled with standing room only, teachers sprawled out on the floor, standing in the back of the room, and spilling out the door into the hall. There was an excitement in the air as educators realized they no longer had to just take what the textbook companies gave them, but could make their content their own and cater it to their classroom experience. At another session a group of teachers strategized to collaborate an iBook author “Hack-a-thon” to collaborate on building their own textbooks for iPads. Truly, the level of collaboration and educator-initiated work on digital textbooks is impressive to see.

Take-Away #4: Michigan teachers are incredible

Every room was filled with highly-motivaed, highly-skilled educators doing incredible things inside and outside the classroom. A trip to MACUL is truly an exercise in humility when you realize just how much talent exists in Michigan schools. It was such a refreshing experience, after watching the local and national media only cover the things that are going wrong in the schools. But MACUL was filled with the people who were doing great things in the classroom. Talk to anyone in the hallway or the food court – you would find great stories and great educators. A trip to MACUL would convince even the most hardened skeptic that Michigan education is in good hands.

Take-Away #3: Project Based Learning is for real

Pickney New Tech High School conducted several PBL training sessions, explaining their model and describing the opportunities and pitfalls of teaching in the Project Based Learning model. I was struck by just how well-thought out the PBL model is. Before this session I knew that PBL offered tremendous opportunity for student engagement focused on high level thinking skills. What I didn’t know was how the PBL model also translates well to teaching standards as well as teaching skills. The educators from Pickney High School shared this presentation, which laid out how the PBL model uses extensive scaffolding and background activities to teach students mastery of the content before it teaches them mastery of 21st century skills. After seeing this presentation on PBL I am convinced we have just heard the beginning of Project Based Learning.

Take-Away #2: The #MichED movement is just getting started

This past year a handful of educators began a Twitter hashtag and education chat called #MichED. The original concept was to help educators in Michigan network and collaborate. Throughout this year the group of educators has grown and has even expanded into creating education-themed podcasts to celebrate the good work of students and educators across the state. It’s been great to watch this organization grow, but I didn’t know just how powerful #MichED could be until this week at MACUL. #MichED was everywhere. Teachers involved in #MichED wore t-shirts to promote the movement, presenters plugged the group at every opportunity, and some even passed out flyers to get word out. #MichEd is still in its infancy, but one thing is clear from MACUL: this is just the beginning. #MichED is going to become a powerful positive force in Michigan education.

Take-Away #1: Conferences aren’t about content, they’re about the people you meet there

Thursday night myself and a couple of teachers walked into the lounge at the Renaissance and were invited by Kevin Honeycutt and his fellow presenter, Ginger Lewman, to join their table. What followed was an incredible few hours of conversation on education and learning. I couldn’t help but think two things: 1) we had no business sitting at the same table with the conference keynote speaker, and 2) Kevin and his crew are incredible people who never acted as though they are above a group of everyday classroom teachers – this was just a group of people getting together to discuss a topic close to all our hearts. It was a pointed example of  how and why MACUL works. MACUL is more than a group of presentations filled with good content. MACUL is about the people who go there, and throughout my two days at that conference I met person after person who shared the collective vision for making our schools better through working together around a common goal: providing a better experience for our students. All conferences are about the people who attend, but MACUL was a truly impressive collection of dedicated professionals. It is a conference I will return to again and again.

Thank you to all those involved with MACUL for working so hard to make this event such a positive experience!


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