Monday, November 23, 2015

Schools Without Walls 2015 Changed My Thinking...

I attended the Schools Without Walls (SWOW) annual conference just a few weeks ago. The conference was held in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I enjoy attending the conference each year to learn the latest about educational technology! The sessions always challenge my thinking.

This year, I was excited to hear a presentation by keynote speaker Ginger Lewman (follow her on Twitter @GingerLewman). Ginger asked great questions:

"Are we transforming curriculum with technology or are we substituting digital worksheets for paper worksheets?" This helped me reflect about my role as a library media specialist and technology consultant. I can help teachers enhance curriculum in their classroom with technology... In what ways am I doing this? (something we should all ponder as school librarians)

"How do we ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn outside of our walls?"

My three biggest takeaways from SWOW:

Genius Hour

Ginger explained that this comes from Google's 20% time for their employees. Students can use designated "Genius Hour" time to explore/ create projects of their choosing. The library is a great place to try this since we have so many resources for students to utilize. I love the idea of encouraging learners to come up with solutions to problems. The school library is a perfect spot to research and experiment! I want to try this soon!

Educational Video Games

I attended a session by Chad Freeman on this topic. Chad is a teacher at Ashdown High School in Ashdown, Arkansas. He challenged my thinking on gaming by discussing why people game. The main reasons being that the best games are complex and engaging. Video gamers also receive instant feedback and are encouraged to try again (something we should adopt in all aspects of education). Chad provided names of some excellent games for classroom use:

Minecraft EDU
Cities Skylines

I have forwarded information about Cities Skylines to our Civics teachers. This game looks like an excellent opportunity to have learners develop a virtual local government and build/ maintain a city. I will have to examine the other games as time permits! This is an ever emerging way to engage our learners in a video game environment.

Photo found at

Live Internet Radio and Podcasting

I really enjoyed the session about Internet Broadcasting led by Arkansas educators Jeff Madlock and David Henderson (on Twitter @edutechguys)! They discussed the many ways that teachers can broadcast from their classroom. Jeff and David presented many different possibilities for podcasting in the classroom. Among these were class reviews, class discussions, class presentations, school news, and interviews. Jeff (@jmadlock) and David (@davidinark) have a regular podcast where they interview educators. You can listen to their previous broadcasts here.

Some of the websites with free options (with the opportunity for expanded paid plans) they presented:

Photo found at (users can broadcast 1 hour sessions for free, longer periods require paid plan)  (users can broadcast 1 hour sessions for free, longer periods require paid plan)

Both of these sites are wonderful options to reach students where they are (almost every learner has a device of some type that can access digital audio/ podcasts). I'm already interested in this since two of our Lakeside High School history teachers (Mr. Kevin Pumphrey and Mr. Ron Franklin) have just started podcasting from their classrooms. They have been using a YouTube channel (History After Hours Podcast) to post their episodes. I attended one of their combined class discussions one day and was very impressed with how engaged their students were! It's a great day when we can engage students using technology that models digital citizenship!

I hope my three takeaways from the SWOW conference have inspired you!

Take a moment to read a few of our most popular blog articles:

Our first Mysteryskype is described here

We describe our first Makerspace Day in the library here.

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  1. Hello, Stony! I'm so glad someone shared about Genius Hour at your conference. I'd like to share with you now a link to the Genius Hour LiveBinder - the Librarian's point of view tab! Here, other educators who work in a library setting share what they're doing to facilitate Genius Hour. Enjoy the reading and connecting in 2016!

    1. Joy! Thank you for sharing this with me, friend!