It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from the 21 Century Learning conference in Hong Kong and I’m still digesting all the information I took in. This was the second year I attended this conference and the second time I left feeling energized even though I was completely exhausted from the weekend. It was a great weekend packed full of engaging discussions.

This was my first time presenting at this conference and I was excited and a little anxious about the opportunity. In a previous post I asked fellow teachers on Twitter to join in during my presentation. I explained this to those in attendance and noticed some jaws drop at the idea that people all over the world could chime in and participate. I definitely think I won some Twitter converts by the end of my presentation. Again, it just goes to show how many dedicated and truly inspirational teachers you have access to via Twitter.

I don’t think my presentation could have happened without the organization and support of our strand leaders Neil Ringrose (@neilringrose) and Serena Fan (@sfanHK). They were both kind enough to keep the twitter conversation alive by live tweeting my presentation. It was very cool to see tweets by @Matt_Gomez, @hechternacht, and @jasongraham99 (among others) showing up on the conference tweet screen as a result of my presentation.

Neil and Serena also did a great job facilitating and encouraging organic discussions within our strand. I really valued this time and felt it provided a great opportunity for us to share, explore, and discover some of the exciting things teachers are doing in their classrooms.

Probably the biggest take away of the conference for me was the talk given by Sugata Mitra. If you haven’t seen or heard him speak before I urge you to watch this video:

I don’t want to discusses this video so much as I would to comment on the idea behind it. The idea that kids will figure things out on their own given time has been something I have been gravitating to in recent years. Especially since I started teaching early childhood again. Now as with most beliefs or ideologies I believe there exists a continuum of sorts. I don’t know of any school that would allow students to show up to a classroom, void of any teacher, and let students explore uninhibited all day. But I do think we can find somewhere on this continuum of student driven learning where both teachers and students can feel comfortable, supported, and motivated enough to make things happen.

I believe that this concept folds in nicely with the trend of personalization of learning. Just the other day I came across an article about just that entitled, Preparing Students to Learn Without Us. Now I think you could read this title two ways. You could read it from a defensive stance and think that it means removing the teacher from the classroom and that we as teachers will become obsolete. On the other hand you could read it to mean that what we do in the classroom must provide our students with the necessary skills to continue to learn after we remove ourselves from the equation.

Because the fact is that anyone can train kids to regurgitate material but it’s an entirely different ball game when you empower a student to take ownership and actually “create” something centered around a concept or idea that they have come to. I don’t feel the “traditional” model of education lends itself to this approach. The article mentioned above reiterates exactly this idea:

Between adaptive software that can present and assess mastery of content, video games and simulations that can engage kids on a different level, and mobile technologies and online environments that allow learning to happen on demand, we need to fundamentally rethink what we do in the classroom with kids.

In my mind I don’t see teachers going away but I do see their roles changing. I also see the student and teacher dynamic changing. I actually envision a complete shift in what schools and learning environments will look like in as little as five years. Those institutions that resist this shift will be playing catch up in the following five years, or go away.