EARCOS Teacher’s Conference 2017

I attended my first EARCOS conference last week and it was an incredible experience. I took a massive amount of notes during the week and this post is my attempt to bring it all together in one place. For me, this will serve as a means to remember my experience; for visitors to my blog, you can compare my experience to yours or use it to preview what you’re in for next year in Bangkok.

We arrived late on Monday and spent the first two days perusing the city and surrounding islands. After a day in the sun, it was Thursday morning and time to get things started. Most of the attendees enjoyed breakfast in the hotel and then walked down to the conference. That’s great, but they missed out on something. I arrived in this fine piece of craftsmanship. It had the most blue chrome on and around the dash that I’ve ever seen and sounded like it could, with the help of that spoiler, hurl me through time and space and drop me in the Pacific Sutera lobby. In reality, I’ve been on lawnmowers with more git up than this thing; it was fun, though.

The first keynote inspired and left the audience moved. Ms. Phan Thi Kim Phuc  shared her experiences before and after a napalm attack that changed her life forever. Her story of survival, peace, and forgiveness was a great way to start the conference as it encouraged the audience of educators to surmount the challenges they face, no matter how hard they seem.

Session 1

I attended Mary Ryan’s Session I presentation titled ‘Tools and Strategies for Differentiating Mathematics Instruction‘. As an ELL specialist at the conference, I had the freedom to pick and choose the presentations I wanted to watch. The strands this year were mostly Math, Science, Counseling, and IT; this gave me some freedom. I attended sessions I found interesting personally, or presentations that would help me help my sixth grade content teachers. In Mary’s presentation I took away some ideas to help differentiate Math. The first idea was a mathcentric definition of differentiation. I like the simplicity of this model. The teacher can differentiate content, process, and/or product according to readiness, interests, and learner profile; it doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Mary also mentioned textbook ceilings. Often, students in Asia are way beyond their grade level in Math. I’ve taught English to middle school students who were starting college math. What is a Math teacher to do in that situation? While this situation is common in Korea, it’s also not unheard for students to be way behind. The topic of textbook ceilings and floors is definitely salient and is something I will be discussing with my teachers in the near future. Throwing mixed levels of English proficiency into that mix makes for a challenging classroom. Mary recommended a system of tiered instruction that consistently provides the teachers with feedback so they can adjust the course as they work towards their destination. I was delighted to hear her talk about Bloom’s taxonomy – specifically, behaviors that can be elicited through effective questioning – as it overlaps with what I focus on in my own classes. A final takeaway is a class-quieting strategy. The teachers says ‘back to me’ and students reply ‘back to you’. I look forward to giving this a try next year.

Session 2

It’s me! Get my presentation materials here.

Session 3

The next presentation was Tina Quick’s ‘International Parenting: How Global Mobility Affects Children‘. There’s nothing like getting info straight from the source; Tina Quick is just that. She’s a Third Culture Kid (TcK) who has moved 29 times in her life – 17 times before sixth grade if I remember correctly. She’s also a great presenter who gets right to the point. I knew I would enjoy her presentation when she said ‘It’s 1:45 so I’m gonna get started; they don’t call me Quick for nothing!’

Tina took us through the coining and evolution of the term, third culture kid, and made some projections about its future. For me, I was thinking about my own kids and that they are not technically TcKs, but more cross-culture kids (CCRs) – who aren’t fortunate, and were not born on the bayou…ahem… As a group made up of mostly parent teachers and counselors, we brainstormed challenges and benefits of the TcK experience. What I found most interesting were the stages of transition (leaving — transition — entering — re-involvement) she took us through. I was connecting them to the stages of cultural shock that I’m more familiar with. Her personal examples brought each stage to life. A few things that stuck with me are the RAFT. I’m familiar with RAFT as a way to contextualize writing, but her RAFT is completely different; it’s a a way to leave somewhere on a positive, fulfilled note. RAFT stands for reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, and thank and talk. As an international teacher, this is great to know since students leave for life abroad constantly. A final thing that is still in my head is her comment about the transition stage. The transition stage begins as soon as you step foot in the new country. It’s the point where ‘nobody knows how cool you are’, as Tina says. All of her points really hit home personally and professionally – now it’s time to order her book, The Global Nomad’s Guide to University TransitionMy son is 10 years away from high school graduation, but it’s never to early to start prepping.

The first day ended with a job-alike session and a welcome reception. We enjoyed the atmosphere, cultural performances, free food, adult beverages, and Dr. K’s wicked dance moves.

Day 2, Session 4

The day began with a stellar keynote by Christophe Galfard, author of The Universe in Your HandThe story and the visuals were fantastic. I remember him saying that scientists ‘find a black spot and zoom’ and that it all ends where it all begins. Needless to say, it was a lot to think about in the morning and I’m anxious to start his book. The next presentation was titled ‘My Brnasa-hs201427a-hubbleultradeepfield2014-20140603.jpgain, My Body, My Narrative: A Scientific Approach for Supporting Students in Healthy Relationships’ by Kate Dore and Rob Newberry. Kate described the approach she and her colleagues take when teaching about sex and healthy relationships. She expertly shared the processes, agreements, and routines that parents, students, and staff go through as they create a safe environment for students. A couple things that I thought were really interesting were students choosing teachers to teach them different things, student created advice/resource columns, and student/parent surveys. Kate came into teaching with a background in neuroscience so it was interesting to hear her describe some of the behaviors I see in my classes every day. Her description of the ‘invisible audience’ in adolescence struck a chord with me – and I was relieved to read that it is not only teens who have that experience. Her discussion also made me think of the role of culture in relationship education. In Korea, there is a thing called nunchi, which is described as a type of emotional intelligence, or a method of gauging the emotions of those around you, that affects your behavior. As an American married to a Korean, I’ve been told I have no nunchi hundreds of times – not better or worse, just different, is my response.  This presentation opened my eyes to the teenage brain quite a bit and highlighted the avenues I need to go do down as I strive to understand the engimatic sixth grade mind.

Session 5

Next up was Dan Long’s presentation titled ‘Cross Cultural Identity of Local Student Enrolled in Western International Schools‘. I learned a lot from this that pertains specifically to my school as it is dominated by host-country nationals, or local students. Dan’s work helped me look at the gates of my school as bridge between two worlds that is not completely Korean, or completely western. As Dan went through his work, I connected to the growth of a third ‘on-campus’ culture to the life cycle of pidgins and creoles. While parts of their own fascinating field of study, pidgins and creoles are types of languages that emerge as a result of cultural/linguistic interaction between groups of people. Pidgins are auxiliary languages made by combining pieces of both languages; creoles are the languages that the children of pidgin speakers speak as their native language. What is amazing is that the creole these children speak has its own grammar that is more closely related to other creoles than the languages the parents of the children speak. I can’t help but think that this describes the uniqueness of my school culture – not Korean, not western, something different. Perhaps, as creoles bear a stronger resemblance to other creoles than their parent languages, the culture of third culture schools resembles other third culture schools more so than the culture of students and teachers. So much to think about and so many questions after Dan’s presentation – glad I got his email.

Session 6

Next, I had to shake a leg to make it over to the Magellan in time for ‘First Steps Towards Transforming Your Classroom‘ with Kim Cofino. The presentation introduced several models used to understand the function of technology in the classroom. The first model introduced was SAMR, which stands for substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition. Reflecting on SAMR, I labelled most of my classroom tech as augmentation or modification. I haven’t reached the point yet where a tech tool allows me to create something that would be impossible to do without tech, but it is something I look forward to discovering. Actually, the use of SNS in the classroom (twitter in the classroom) would be difficult without tech. Is this redefinition? Kim’s slide helped me to visualize where I would like to be as an educator. I’d like tech to transform and redefine what my students do as much as possible, but substitution and augmentation will always be part of my class because they make the class more efficient and save paper. The TPACK visual helped me to gauge my own understanding and think about how it affects my decision making when lesson planning. Kim shared her blog during the presentation and I highly recommend visiting and bookmarking.

Day 3

I showed up to the Saturday morning keynote unsure of my plans for the day. After listening to Aaron and Kaitlin Tait’s ‘Edupreneurs: Changing the World from the Classroom’, I decided to follow them the rest of the day and attend all three of their presentations. I learned so much that it all belongs in its own post.

I’m still mentally unpacking all I’ve learned during the conference and already looking forward to next year.

Thanks for reading!