“Hands down this is the best conference I have attended in my 11 years of teaching,” “I have never been so WOWED at a conference,” and “Best conference I attended in the past 20 years!” were but three of the responses offered by educators at the close of Foxcroft Academy’s first annual From Promise to Practice: Learning with iTunes U conference, which was held August 4-8 in Dover-Foxcroft, ME.
The conference, which was the brainchild of Foxcroft Academy Assistant Head of School for Academics Jon Pratt, was based on the idea that while it is easy to see how powerful iTunes U can be (the Promise), creating courses that are purposeful and effective for the intended learners requires careful planning and the development of specific skills (the Practice). “The name is tied to the premise that participants will move from theory to action,” said Pratt, who oversaw the implementation of FA’s 1:1 iPad initiative in 2011, “and that they’ll walk away not only with conceptual knowledge and skills but with real artifacts to give them a jump start on the beginning of the new school year.”
It was evident by week’s end that this goal had been achieved. Asked to reply yes, so-so, or not really to the statement, “The goal of creating a tangible outcome, along with a ‘Sharing Our Work’ session at the end, helped me to focus and apply my learning,” all but two of the conference’s 37 attendees answered yes (with the others answering so-so).
Conference participants hailed from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, and China and included administrators; technology coordinators; and elementary, middle school, and high school teachers of a wide variety of subjects. Many described the conference as career-changing: “I feel like I’ve almost cheated the kids by not using the techniques I’ve learned over the past four days,” said DeWayne Morse, an English teacher at Houlton High School. “I’ve been teaching for 15 years, and I’m just incredibly pumped. I feel like a first-year teacher. I can’t wait to get back, train my staff, and bring this new knowledge to the kids.”
Each day began with a presentation focused on a different element of constructing an iTunes U course. Dr. Ruben Puentedura–a renowned educator who created the SAMR model for selecting, using, and evaluating technology in education, which currently guides the work of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative as well as projects in Vermont and Sweden–opened Monday’s session by presenting “Models into Practice: SAMR and the EdTech Quintet.” His engaging presentation provided the theoretical framework for much of the pragmatic work that would follow throughout the week. “I found him to be absolutely inspirational,” said Martin Warren, a middle school technology coordinator from New Hampshire who will be carrying out a 1:1 iPad initiative this fall. “No one I’ve met has articulated the connection between technology and making education more meaningful and engaging as nicely as he did.”
Morning presentations were followed by focus group break-out sessions, which provided opportunities for participants to reflect on what they’d learned with the conference’s five facilitators serving as guides. The highly-qualified group of facilitators, each of whom brought a unique skill set to the conference, included Apple Distinguished Educator Anthony DiLaura, a high school math teacher and technology integration specialist for the Zeeland Public School district in Michigan, which deployed a 1:1 iPad initiative in 2011; Fred Sitkins, the principal of Michigan’s Boyne City Elementary School and chair of the District Technology Committee, which has rolled out a 1:1 iPad initiative impacting 1400 students K-12; Rebecca Wildman, a fourth-grade teacher at Boyne City who is a member of the 2013 Apple Distinguished Educator class; and Mia Morrison and Julie Willcott, Apple Distinguished Educators from Foxcroft Academy who have created a series of iTunes U courses that have amassed more than 210,000 subscriptions worldwide in less than one year.
Break-out sessions were followed each afternoon by facilitated work sessions in which participants put their newfound knowledge in action while again having a chance to engage directly with facilitators of their choice. These invaluable sessions allowed participants to begin moving from the abstract to the concrete, and many were well on their way to having full courses completed by the end of the week. “The thing that impressed me most about this conference was the quality of the facilitators, people who have actually made this work in the classroom,” said Tom Chaisson, a Visual Arts teacher at Poland Regional High School. “It’s not theoretical–they’re doing it, and they’re doing such a wonderful job if it.”
The week concluded with a lobster dinner Wednesday night and a three-hour “Sharing our Work” session at Dover-Foxcroft’s historic Center Theatre on Thursday morning, in which participants had 3-5 minutes to present their findings from the week, reflect on what they’d learned, and unveil the digital courses they’d begun to create.
With 100 percent of participants stating on the final feedback survey that they’ll encourage their colleagues to attend next year (and most declaring that they will return themselves), plans are already under way for From Promise to Practice 2014, so please stay tuned for updates. To see more photos from the week or learn much more about the facilitators and conference agenda, visit http://www.foxcroftacademy.org/learningwithitunesu.
Photos taken by Fern Morrison ’15, Sam Keane ’14, and Mark Chevalier.