Lessons learned at the 2013 MLTI Student Conference

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LessonsLearnedIn2009The annual MLTI Student Conference is an incredible learning opportunity for students and their teachers, Maine teacher educators, and the dedicated MLTI team. Every year I marvel at the enthusiasm, passion, interest, and knowledge of the middle and high school students attending. As the conference director, Jim Moulton, likes to remind us, “This will be a day dedicated to fun—to hard fun!” I certainly had fun again this year and I learned some “hard” lessons as well. Here are three of them.

#1—The best lesson: MLTI promotes amazing student learning in many ways that aren’t reflected in student test scores. Excellent workshops, outstanding mass learning, scholarship awards, but the highlights each year for me are the student speakers,  middle and high school students from Maine schools, who use technology for learning and for doing good. Their stories are powerful. In past years, Hannah Potter, Chris Jones, and others have spoken about their personal journeys through learning with technology.

This year’s speakers were outstanding as well. Izzy Labbe and Julia Bluhm, 9th graders in central Maine, spoke of their work as bloggers and activists for SPARK. Julie and Izzy led a successful campaign to encourage Seventeen Magazine to stop using Photoshopped images of young girls. Both young women are now active bloggers and speak widely about their work. Watch their excellent presentation at TEDx Women 2012 to hear their full story.

The second student speaker was Yuval Boss, Orono High School senior, a web designer who also got his start with his 7th grade MLTI laptop. Yuval took advantage of many opportunities—”play around” with Sketch-Up and other software that caught his interest, join his high school’s student technology team, attend MLTI Student Conferences, teach himself HTML and other programming languages, and perhaps most importantly of all, “…find out that kids like me are doing all of this.” It wasn’t long before Yuval interned at a local web-design firm, free-lanced for other businesses, and ultimately used his skills to give back to organizations like CISV. Watch Yuval’s presentation here.

These students are amazing. Now I would like someone to deconstruct the skills these Maine students have developed largely because they had the tools (their own MLTI computer and Internet access) and the support of parents and teachers. These young people are self-learners, they are go-getters, and they make significant contributions to their communities and society. The learning they are so passionate about has little to do with learning measured by standardized test scores. (And it certainly has nothing to do with learning to use a computer that businesses currently use or having a computer to take tests on.)

#2—The hardest lesson: The elephant in the room is sitting on my computer.  What will happen to MLTI and technology and learning in Maine? The recent decision about the next MLTI phase has caused consternation everywhere as schools struggle to determine the impact in their communities. Is this really about “choice”? Will the “level playing field”, a key component of MLTI since the beginning, endure without continuity across the state given different devices, networks, professional development opportunities, and aspirations arising from the selection made in each district? And what about everything we’ve learned about technology and learning in the last 11 years? Are we throwing that out to start over? Ultimately, the decision must be about what choice(s) provide the best opportunities for student learning and not the least expensive cost.

#3—The most baffling lesson: Did you see the news coverage of this year’s MLTI Student Conference? Neither did I, nor did anyone else. Outside of one short paragraph I found in an online newspaper, I saw no TV or major newspaper coverage of this event. Evidently, 1200 students and 200 teachers in one place learning from each other is not news. (Sarcasm intended!) I’m convinced that at its core, this paucity of media coverage for such a significant event has more to do with a fundamental lack of understanding about the role of technology in learning than from obvious disinterest. This story is much more complex than students using computers to do interesting things in the classroom…and that may be the problem. But that is a story for another day! Fortunately, MLTI schools and students made and recorded their own news. See this short YouTube video from Gorham Middle School about the experiences of the 19 students and 5 teachers they sent to the conference.

Three lessons…do any of them resonate with your experience?

Photo by Brian Snelson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/exfordy/

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One Response to “Lessons learned at the 2013 MLTI Student Conference”

  1. Muriel Curtis Says:

    On the subject of publicity, I strongly suggest you be your own advocate here. Write the article yourself, take your own photos, and hound the editors til they publish. The press is overworked, understaffed, and far more interested in really hot news items than in education. It’s our job to arouse their interest. I have even gone as far as interviewing myself for articles and publishing without a by-line. Papers will do that.

    I know we all feel like when we’re doing such great stuff that the public should automatically be interested. Probably not, unless a bomb goes off or something. We are evangelists of education and it’s our job to “spread the gospel” until they start coming to us.

    Muriel Curtis Director, Station Maine

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