Have you ever gone outside to learn something new at an edtech conference? I have! It was so special to me, and I can’t wait to share this experience with you.

At the Wake County Instructional Technology and Library Media Services #wonderwake Fall Convergence Symposium, Bill Ferriter and I presented on Here’s Why You Should Hashtag Your Curriculum. At the conclusion of a very brief, whole-group introduction inside, session attendees transformed into active learners when they began doing their learning outside.

In partners, learners were specifically tasked with (see slide 12 here):

As an elementary STEM Specialist, I’m often overcome with emotion when I see young learners overtaking an outdoor learning space (or any other campus spaces) making it theirs, leading by unique interests, making choices, owning their learning. But as I observed ADULTS owning their learning like this, too, I was awestruck. Was this really happening?

When planning, I was so scared to try something new like this with adults in a conference session. I mean:

  • What if adult learners rolled their eyes and wouldn’t participate?
  • What if adults were riding the proverbial teacher-lounge-negative-snowball?
  • What if they said yes, but didn’t actually do anything?
  • What if our session completely flopped?

Lucky for me, I was presenting #hashtag180 with a veteran educator, presenter, leader, visionary, and seven-time author, Bill Ferriter. Initially, I envisioned staying in the session room, perhaps bringing in potted plants as biotic factor examples (it sounds funny even typing that now). In further planning together, Bill and I then agreed that session attendees would draw a curriculum objective example. Finally, Bill suggested actually DOING the learning outside, just like we would actually DO it in real life. Why didn’t I think of that?

While outside, I remember reflecting:

“I. LOVE. THIS.

THIS is meaningful. THIS is memorable. THIS is our WHY. This IS #hashtag180. This IS our presentation. THIS is learning by doing.”

Does this ever happen to you: 

If I don’t take the time to DO right there on the spot, I’ll lose that train of thought and those learning opportunities fifteen minutes into the next session, if not by dinnertime that night.

My favorite conference, educational event, or professional learning formats are the ones where significant time is specifially allotted for me to play. Playtime matters, big-time! Taking time to learn by doing–on the spot–is way more meaningful than sifting through Google Doc notes or even a well-crafted hashtag stream. In addition, session presenters and co-learners are with me on the spot if I have questions. Reflection is vital for growth, especially if rooted in active learning.

Because we’re all unique individuals, we all learn best in different ways. Therefore, one size does not fit all. There is no one conference session format that best fits all learners. Instead, there is a place for everything. Believe it or not–I have heard that there are actually a few who prefer sit-and-get.

No, you don’t have to go outside to DO learning. I’ve experienced some amazing sessions indoors, even ones in which the presenters have encouraged attendees to move, experiment, and work at my own pace in my own space during the rest of their potential sit-and-get delivery.

But here’s the thing:

Meaningful, memorable, learning is not as much about educators including doing opportunities in their conference sessions or staff meetings–It’s about wanting our learners to DO and own their learning in our classrooms and learning spaces every day!

So, how much time do your students spend sitting? Most adults wrestle with sitting through a twenty-minute sermon or keynote address. Are we really asking kids to do this–and more? How much more? And why? One year–or ten years–from now, which learning experiences will you really remember? I will forever remember going outside to DO learning at an edtech conference, and I am grateful to have lived and shared the experience.