Tag Archives: CAIS Tech Retreat

CAIS – an unconference retreat

There are two conferences that are equidistant from where I live and teach, and they happen to sandwich (or bookend) the school year. The first, NEIT, took place in New Paltz, NY in November, and the second, CAIS, concluded yesterday afternoon. We spent a delightful two days along the banks of the Housatonic River at the Trinity Conference Center in West Cornwall, CT for the CAIS Academic Technology Retreat. (Last year I had the pleasure of presenting at this retreat, but was unable to stay beyond lunch due to having to present that evening at my school’s grades 6-7 and 7-8 transition meetings.)

The operative word for this CAIS event is “Retreat” – an opportunity to step back from our hectic tech lives and think about what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. Thursday morning began with the ever-zealous Justine setting the tone in her upbeat introduction, including taking care of details such as explaining how an unconference works. (There is no pre-planned agenda; just lots of time for people to post topics about which they would like to share or learn, and then we all join the groups that interest us. On Friday morning I shared a session on PLNs <Personal Learning Networks> using Twitter, isenet.ning.com and Posterous.)

Justine had us introduce ourselves by noting something we are doing now that we never expected to be doing when we signed on for our jobs. Her request gave me a good chuckle as so much has changed since I started out as a “computer teacher” in 1982! And for the record, we (my husband and I) returned from this Retreat reenergized by the friendly people, relaxed learning, and entertaining activities. Thanks to Ruth, here are a few people pictures. Thank you CAIS!

While Thursday afternoon and Friday morning consisted of unconference sessions, Tom Daccord kicked off the retreat with his opening keynote Thursday morning. I have seen Tom’s name multiple times over the past few years, and have come to think of him as a “mover and shaker” in the world of educational technology, so was eager to finally see and hear him in person. Tom’s topic was Nurturing the 21st Century Teacher (which he crafted with Prezi, a web-based “zooming presentation editor”).

Tom’s talk seemed just right for faculty at my school who teach in grades 7-12, the grades in which all of our students have their own laptop computers. He didn’t try for a hard sell; he simply used solid research and anecdotal evidence to make his points while engaging us in some conversation. (For my taste, while Tom made phenomenal eye contact with each of us throughout his talk, there could have been even more interaction; sitting still and listening, with some conversation, is not my preferred mode of learning.) He organized his talk into three components: Framework – where we are and where are we going in terms of students, technology, and learning; Culture – the world of technology into which our students are born; and Leadership – ways in which teachers can teach, including the C-R-C-D Framework.

All through college I was a copious note taker during lectures because it helped me to remember the content. It is now years later and I am trying to train myself to listen more intently and only take notes for those items of specific interest. I am not a fan of tweeting during talks, having determined that it both distracts me and seems rude. So, I’ve made peace by tweeting those items I want to recall, promising to keep the tweets to a minimum, and keeping my laptop cover 4/5 closed except for when making those few tweets, which serve as my note-taking reminders. Here, then, are my tweets from Tom’s talk.



Intangible. Can’t touch them, but you can try to wrap your head around them. For me, I need a reason to ponder an idea. It doesn’t have to be a practical reason, but it has to be a reason that gets my head in gear and focuses it on thinking.

At the recent CAIS and AIMS Tech Retreats, we did a lot of pondering of ideas, in particular, ideas about optimal conditions for getting adults to learn. The focus of my CAIS session was how adults learn, and at AIMS it was professional development and collaborating with colleagues, but the topics certainly overlap. In both instances, an overflow of ideas emerged from group brainstorms.

At CAIS we used index cards to collect ideas, one item per card. You can read more about this activity and see pictures here, or get a summary of the ideas and see the related wordle here

Anytime you ask teachers to generate ideas about how adults learn, you are bound to get a combination of thoughts based upon themselves as both learners and teachers. The result is a well-rounded list of suggestions, which I entered into a Google Doc. There are any number of ways that this list could have been organized, and if I have the opportunity to try this exercise again, sticky notes may be substituted for index cards so that people can play around in real-time with categorizing the feedback.

The almost thirty participants touched upon the major components necessary for adult learning:

• having a reason to learn
• feeling in control of the process
• being in a safe environment
• tapping prior knowledge 
• appealing to emotions
• providing an experiential component
• setting aside time for reflection

as well as accommodating varied learning styles.

After looking over their ideas, what, if anything, would you add to their brainstorm list? 


Making the CAIS

indexcardsApproximately 175 index cards filled with brainstormed ideas generated by 30 people. Wow!

After a first attempt at categorizing the cards by laying them out on the floor, I quickly realized what a wonderful potential activity they presented. What if the cards had been stickies, and every sticky was placed on a wall, easily available for large scale viewing. We could generate a sticky bar chart, a visual summary, a large-scale categorization, ideas that can be handled and readily rearranged.

For this first summary, all of the index cards were categorized so as to organize the number of related but differently worded entries. Each category was then labeled using one or two words. Next a list was created of the labels, with each label repeated on the list for as many times as there were index cards in that category. The resulting list was popped into wordle, which generated a visual summary. For those not familiar with wordle, the size of the words is determined by the number of times any given word is repeated. Larger words = repeated more often.

Later this week I’ll pop all of the cards, verbatim, into a Google Doc and share the URL in another post. Meanwhile, what ideas do you have about optimal conditions for getting adults to learn? Think: activities, conditions, venues. And remember, a good brainstorm includes all ideas, no matter how silly or ridiculous it sounds to you.


Cards from CAIS

Go ahead and brainstorm optimal conditions for getting adults to learn. Think: activities, conditions, venues…  And remember the rules for a good brainstorm: include all ideas, no matter how silly or ridiculous sounding.

Each person writes one item per card, using as many cards as possible.

At the end, collect the blank cards, and build a tower with the remaining ones. My apologies to the folks at the table – I boggled the picture when saving the rescaled image.


Next post will contain all the ideas generated by this brainstorm.









CAIS Tech Retreat

One week from today I will be in the Berkshire Mountains, participating in the CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) Academic Tech Retreat at the Trinity Conference Center. I have the pleasure of speaking Thursday morning, and it seems a most fitting way to celebrate two years, to the month, of Neurons Firing! [Update May 15: The CAIS wiki includes a summary of the Retreat, as well as some additional links.]

I could tell you the topic of my session, but how much better if you try and figure it out from the list of resources below. After all, that’s a much better way to get your neurons firing!

Brain Bits
Exercise grows neurons
• Ongoing learning strengthens memory
Novelty fosters synapses and creativity
Communities stimulate thinking

• Ben Zander – Davos Annual Meeting 2008 closing talk
• TED Talks – Tim Brown: The powerful link between creativity and play
• TED Talks – Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
• TED Talks – Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight
• main page for all the amazing TED Talks

Building Online Learning Communities by Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt
Teaching with the brain in mind by Eric Jensen
Learning & Memory: The Brain in Action by Marilee Sprenger
Achieving Optimal Memory by Aaron P. Nelson with Susan Gilbert
Brain Rules by John Medina, plus the website
Neuroscience for Kids, perhaps the BEST site about the brain, and it’s not just for kids!
SPARK, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey with Eric Hagerman
The Neuroscience of Adult Learning edited by Sandra Johnson and Kathleen Taylor
The Art of Changing the Brain by James Zull

Staying Sharp Pamphlets, produced by The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community
• Your Brain at Work: Making the Science of Cognitive Fitness Work for You, 2008 (produced by the DANA Alliance and The Conference Board–Mature Workforce Initiative)
• Learning Throughout Life, 2006
• Memory Loss and Aging, 2006

National Center for Learning Disabilities
Executive Function Fact Sheet
Executive Function: A Quick Look

SharpBrains articles
The brain virtues of physical exercise
interview with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg
• interview with Yaakov Stern – Build Your Cognitive Reserve
5 Tips on Lifelong Learning & the Adult Brain

Learning and the Brain conference, which takes place three times a year – February in San Francisco, May in Washington, D.C., and November in Cambridge, MA
The Brain, Learning and Applications: CAIS Summer Institute, which takes place in August

Writing Exercise
• sketching comes from the Tim Brown TED Talk (see above)
• all other activities provided by Candy, Middle School Learning Specialist

• Dulcie, for patient tutelage
• Candy, for mentoring
• F and R, for listening, looking and suggesting
• Justine, for asking in the first place!

The slides for this presentation are available here, on SlideShare.