Saturday, April 9, 2016

StunConference - A Student Led Unconference

If you are an educator you have probably have heard of un-conferences. Maybe you have even attended a couple. You might have even toyed with the idea of doing one with students, especially if you are a project based teacher. After all, they kind of feel a little like the "need to know" discussions you have after your entry event.

However, the logistics  seem daunting. Where are you going to hold it? How are you going to keep students on track? Do you really have the time? What if the students do not buy into it? What if a session creator gets no participants? These are the questions that good friends and masterful educators Samantha McMillan and Melissa Garcia had a couple of months ago when they decided to "Just do it". Today, I was in Samantha's class and witnessed what I had thought impossible: A 6th grade student led un-conference.

So, what did it look like? Engagement and deep conversation centered around "Imagine the Future". All students were:
- Participating
- On task
- Holding each other accountable
- Learning from each other
It was a teacher's dream.

Now for the tricky part. How do you achieve this?

Your break-out sessions do not need to be separated by walls. Student led un-conferences can be done in a regular classroom. You just need to have students sit together. It will get loud, but not much louder than in any group activity.

Decide on an un-topic conference appropriate for the students. It should be broad enough and interesting to the students. Start with a topic that inspires conversation: Imagine the Future (today's topic), College, Immigration, Equality. You know, the small stuff.
Provide students with some time (whether in class or out) to come up with break-out session ideas. Have the "Session Wall" posted for a couple of days at least. It does not have to be fancy, some butcher paper and post-its will do. Make sure you emphasize that not all students need to create a session. Have them read the session wall before adding topics. Remind them that if they want to lead a session that is already posted they can simply participate.

Prepare the students. Explain the structure. Go over the norms. Emphasize collaboration. Here is the website Samantha used with her students for today's topic: StunConferenceAdVENTURE (Be aware that some of her links are specific to her class, so they will not work for you).
With her permission, I have tweaked it into a generic one that you can use in your class, with specific ties to PBL - to make your own copy of the documents open them in Google drive and click File>make a copy. 

The day of the un-conference, take a deep breath and step back. Visit the different break-out sessions as a participant. Above all, avoid taking over. Trust your students and see them soar.

If you are wondering about the electronics, that is where their note-taking documents are.
I invite you to try it out. You will not be disappointed. If you do, tweet it out using #StunConference. 

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