Image via Wikipedia
I have been attending and presenting at Ed Tech conferences for quite sometime and every year I say the same thing, "Where are all of our students?" Now, before everyone starts posting examples of how their students have attended such and such conference, I acknowledge that I do see people bringing students from time to time. Don't get me wrong, I have witnessed great examples of student involvement but I don't see an overall active presence of students at these conferences. A great example to model oneself after is Carol Broos, a colleague that I am also privileged to call friend. I like to say that she has more medals and honors than General Patton. She has been bringing students to the ICE Conference for years. Carol's students have done poster sessions and even full break out presentations! Examples like this are not as common as I would hope. Basically, ed tech conferences are about adults more than they are the students. Can't there be more for our students?
I really believe in the experience that comes from presenting to your peers. Here is a post that talks about my feelings on how important it is to present your thoughts and to be scrutinized by your colleagues. In that post I mentioned, "I am very comfortable with knowing that I have grown more as a professional and I am a much better educator because I love to rise to the challenge."There are few experiences that are more challenging than presenting to your peers. The value of my own preparation in conjunction with the the feedback from the audience has been invaluable. I want to give that experience to my students. Can't there be more for my students?
I knew that I wanted to see more students involved with presenting to their peers on a more meaningful basis. Several years ago, I began to make an effort to bring kids to conferences. While I do believe my student's brought value to the conference, ultimately they learned more than anyone. Based upon this initial success, I began to think bigger. Well, to my good fortune, I came across a great program out of Bloomington, Illinois. I happened to come across the SIT Conference through a presentation at the Illinios Education and Technology Conference in Springfield, Illinois (I happened to be sitting with Vicki Davis in the same presentation and here is her blog reflection on that presentation and the conference). Jim Peterson and several representatives of the SIT Conference were presenting about a pre-existing conference model for students in which all presentations are done by students. As part of this presentation, they mentioned that they were expanding and looking for more sites to join under the overall SIT Conference umbrella.
This was what I was looking for ... A tech ed conference for students presenting to other students! Well, my wish came true so to speak. Several colleagues and I formed a committee to put this event together. Hinsdale District #86 agreed to host a SIT Conference site and I was allowed to work closely with them by leading a team of volunteers from outside the district. After a lot of hard work by all, we were able to put together the first Chicago Suburban SIT Conference. We were one of four locations or sites in Illinois with just over 100 student participants. Overall, the SIT Conference had 1000 students participate state-wide. All four locations held their conference on the same day at the same time with the same overall structure and time frame. Here is the official blurb for the conference from 2005 (I purposely use the oldest mention that I could find as the description is basically the same). The Bloomington site is in their 10th year this year.
The Students Involved with Technology Conference is an annual conference occurring in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. It is a conference for 3rd-12th grade students. So what makes the SIT Conference stand out? It is also completely presented by 3rd-12th grade students. While adult volunteers from local schools and the community help the day run smoothly, all presentations are prepared and presented by the students! If you'd like to be a part of the SIT Conference, as a student presenter or attendee, or as an adult volunteer, visit Sign Up or stop by Who’s Who. http://www.sitconference.org/
Check out the main site, http://www.sitconference.org to get more information. For fun, check out the oldest live link to the conference that I could find as well: http://www.sitconference.org/2004/. Maybe, you can talk them into expanding this conference nation wide!
Yes, some could argue that there are "comparable activities" that include science fairs, science olympiad, history day, etc. For me, this kind of conference is completely different. Students decide on their own what they want to present as the topic is completely up to them. There is quite a variety of presentations from fun gaming technology to Internet Safety. Students take their presentations very seriously. The focus is on spreading the word regarding technology through exploration and play versus "core curricular content". Here is a link to the list of different presentations at all of the sites. You have to be impressed with the student's choices. There is so much creativity that surrounds this event from logo creation to video creation. Check out SIT 2010: Tabula Rasa to get a better feel for that creativity. Here is a summary of activities from Jay Blackman who was the team leader for students from Brookwood Middle School (Thanks Jay for the picture and the quote):
Students presented the latest in technology and software. Our eighth graders made two presentations on Goggle Sketchup. Gerry, Caroline, Fatimah and Fred did an outstanding job as they walked onlookers through this free software application. These students were able to draw in 3 -D a boat, chair, helicopter and Hummer. Their presentation excited the onlookers and many asked questions. Their presentation was concise, interesting and informative. They explained how they learned to use Google Sketchup; they used online tutorials. Check out the full article at their website here.
Now, for me, the final evaluation of this event comes in the form of a direct quote from one of my students that was repeated throughout the day by student after student who did not "present" that day.
"I can't wait to present next year!"
Not every presentation was fantastic and not everyone had a perfect day, but the overwhelming response was very positive. There were a lot of comments on our follow up survey for students that identified the need for students to improve their presentation skills. I completely agree and so do many of the students. The second most common comment that was verbalized in front of me was the student's desire to do it all differently and over again. There is a lot of value in student's talking like this about an educational event in their life. While there are always ways to improve this type of conference, I was wowed by the efforts of all of the Bloomington personnel and Hinsdale District #86 personnel. The SIT Conference site lists all of the different organizations that participated in putting this event together. There was a lot of time and preparation put into this event by a lot of people and that was reflected in the quality of the event overall. I was privileged to help out and I believe that my time was well spent! Congratulations to everyone involved and most of all to the students who put themselves out there to present. I just hope that you earned a SIT Buck or two and won a prize for all of your hard work! For me ... I knew there had to be more for my students. Can't there be more for yours as well? Hmm... now to convince everyone to do it again next year!
Perhaps, I should help the students create their own TEDx for Students?
Crossposted at SMeech.net