Archive for December, 2008

Welcome Activities

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

This post began as a reflection on the GTA, but in an email to a colleague it became a bit more… so I’m sharing it here again in this new format.

As with many other things, it helps to be clear about the purpose of the Welcome Activity. This may change depending on the event and the audience, but in general a welcome activity needs to do the following:

  • Help participants get to know each other
  • Help participants get their mental juices flowing
  • Help participants get physically involved in the event
  • Help participants get emotionally (or passionately) involved in the event

In addition, a welcome activity must easy to participate in; complicated or difficult activities will make it very difficult to achieve any of the above. I like to start with an engaging personal or humorous anecdote, and then pose a question for participants to discuss. The question usually plays off of the anecdote, taps into participants’ own passions, and also relates to the topic at hand. I often use the “Think, Pair, Share” model of asking participants to consider their own answer, to share it with one partner, and then to share out with the whole group (either everyone if it is a small group, or select volunteers if it is a large group). Here are a few example welcome activities that follow this model.

A Message From The Future
This is based on my personal experience with a U2 song – be sure to read the story behind it.

Driving a Race Car
This is based on my personal experience with a race car driving book. It’s pretty straight forward.

Building Airplanes in The Sky
This is based on a funny video – a commercial actually – and is also fairly straight forward.

For me, the physical component is often challenging, but asking participants to build something, move something around, or simply move themselves around the room can also help to engage them in the physical space in which they’ll be learning. Two welcome activities I’ve led at the Google Teacher Academy meet this need well.

Building Innovators
The surprise step four asks participant teams to use the index cards to create the highest tower that they can – with a focus on thinking outside the box to accomplish their task. :)

The Innovation Connection
Moving around within the room trying to connect in every possible combination with the members of their group turns out to be a very physical (and challenging) experience.

Feel free to adapt any of the above welcome activities for your own use if they resonate with you. Or, create your own. I also subscribe to the “Start with a Demo” philosophy and will sometimes start with an interactive demonstration – such as asking participants questions and live blogging the answers to demonstrate how easy it is to post when starting a blogging workshop. You might sort out a way to start by taking pictures as they come in and then displaying them as part of a Welcome activity that demonstrates the engaging power multimedia.

I hope this reflection on Welcome Activities has been helpful, and I hope you’ll let me know if you have any other examples or additional thoughts on welcome activities that you’d like to share.

Speaking of reflections, a good reflection activity is at least as important as a good welcome activity, though it may be more important to focus on the things learned that day than on other outside passions. However, I usually shoot for the best of both worlds by trying to connect the reflection activity to the opening welcome activity.

Good luck with your own workshops. I hope your welcome activity gets you and your participants started on the right foot. :)

UPDATE: Google Certified Teacher Jim Lerman left a very thoughtful and very detailed comment on my previous post about Welcome Activities. In it, he pointed out something very important that I haven’t highlighted here:

The most important thing is that the opening event should bear a clear relationship to the other events of the day, including most importantly, the closing event. People remember beginnings and endings much more than everything in between – so it’s important to maximize the value of them and not fritter away these most significant of times.

Read more of Jim’s Comment on the original post. Naturally, the most important thing about any welcome activity is that it prepares participants for the task at hand – which of course means that the purpose of the professional development day is the most important purpose of the welcome activity. I allude to this briefly in the “Lead Learner Procedures” I share with all CUE Lead Learners:

Provide a welcome activity (that gets participants talking and introducing themselves). It is best if this is related to the topic at hand and to a greater emotional connection beyond the topic at hand

Ultimtely, this need to connect the welcome activity to the purpose of the professional development event highlights the need to be clear about the purpose of the PD. This would be another post altogether, but I think the discussion would touch on the need of good face-to-face PD to take advantage of the people in the room for some constructive purpose. (This is a need at the GTA as well – and I think the most important purpose of the day is to help 50 new educators become new members of the Google Certified Teacher community… a purpose I hope will be even more central to future Google Teacher Academies.)

As always, I’d love to hear your comments on any of this, including any additional thoughts you might have on what makes a good welcome activity.

GTA NYC Reflection – Part 4: Reflection Activities

Monday, December 1st, 2008

This is the fourth (of four) posts reflecting on my experience leading the Google Teacher Academy in NYC on November 18th. They may not be explicit in this post, but I still feel the presence of these three themes from my reflections: Innovation, Inspiration, and Passion.

This particular GTA also saw the return of our original reflection activity (though this version may have at least been conceived as a slightly more formal activity). The activity, called “Aha! Moments” is a simple variation on the old “Think, Pair, Share” method. Participants were given a minute to think to themselves about what their Aha! moment was during the day. Then they had a few minutes to share with a partner next to them. This was the most successful part of the reflection activity – the conversations were loud, animated, and perhaps even passionate. Following that I had planned that each pair would share “the best” of their moments with their whole team – and that the team would then share “the best” of the table with the whole room.

Unfortunately, I felt pressed for time and was afraid we might be spending too much time on a low energy reflection activity… and I was somewhat uneasy about the competition element and asking them to rate each other’s moments (even though I know that in sharing such stories one or two always stand out and competition isn’t an issue). In the end I them share with partners and with their table. Then I called them all back together (away from their team tables to the central tables where they were all mixed together) and simply asked for volunteers to share their aha moments. The first few were fantastic… but then after about the fourth or fifth there were no more volunteers. At the end of the night we did get feedback that suggested each table should’ve been heard. In the future, I will trust the process and respect the reflection process by following through on allocating the necessary time. I am always impressing upon other lead learners the importance of the “wrapping” on a PD session (the welcome and reflection activities), and sometimes I need to hear that myself.

In terms of what makes a good reflection activity in general, I think the purpose is similar to that of a good welcome activity – and a good reflection activity is at least as important as a good welcome activity, though it may be more important to focus on the things learned that day than on other outside passions. However, I usually shoot for the best of both worlds by trying to connect the reflection activity to the opening welcome activity (and to what they’ve learned and what their next steps are, of course).

Obviously, I haven’t given this as much thought as I’ve given to welcome activities, and I think it shows in my workshops… the welcomes are much stronger than the reflections. So I’d love to hear any thoughts you all have on what makes a good reflection activity for teachers in a professional development session… and I hope you’ll share.

I actually outlined material for at least one more post, but my battery gave out on the plane… and now I’m up plenty late putting this series of posts together. However, I did create a sort of bullet list of “what I learned” that I think it might be appropriate to include in this “reflection” post. Here they are – in the order I thought of them.

  • It’s six of one and a half dozen of the other when it comes to balancing fast versus slow or technical versus pedagogical… but you still have to consider these elements and strike a good balance.
  • Innovation, inspiration, and passion are necessary for good professional development – at every stage of the day (and every stage of the planning and preparation too).
  • I absolutely needed to care at every step of the way – and I need to believe my efforts will make a difference to the participants and their students. (I had to consciously get myself back to this place when I left home for four days.)
  • The power of the Google Teacher Academy (and perhaps all professional development in education) is in the diffusion of innovation that occurs after the event, and that should be the focus.
  • The power of the Google Teacher Academy (and perhaps all groups of professional development participants) is in the network of people the event creates.
  • I personally did a better job of meeting new people – and enjoyed it. It’s valuable to do make an effort to not chat and eat with the people you already know… but it’s hard when you rarely see them face to face as it is. ;)
  • I personally still learned more from talking to people informally than I did from the formal event.
  • When it comes to choosing new speakers (that I hadn’t previously worked with), this has an similar effect to adding new segments to the day (such as the office hours)… it’s a risk that can really pan out – or that can be a real liability.
  • There’s a conflict, I think, between the need to be very prescriptive about what you want from presenters – and trusting them to shine in their own way. Perhaps there’s some sort of balance to be had here as well… a way to inspire rather than proscribe.
  • I wish I could’ve taken Eva and Clark with me… even though I was working for nearly the entire time I was there. I’m not sure what the answer to this is. ;)
  • I definitely should’ve talked to more people about “Search, Learn, Share.” :)

Of course, if any of you have reactions to these, I hope you’ll share those in the comments, too.