2015 Tri-Association Conference – a Summary

I just returned from the 2015 Tri-Association conference in Bogota, Colombia. If you weren’t one of the 800+ attendees, do not fret: here are the highlights (at least from my POV and from the breakout sessions I attended).

Note: Be warned – the interpretations/summations below do not necessarily reflect the actual presentations. This is my take and I am responsible for any errors/omissions.


General Ideas/Resources:

         Book Creator app – allows students to write and publish their own books

         Vincigenius.com – teacher resources

         Capstone projects – assessment/deep learning idea; “a two-semester process in which students pursue independent research on a question or problem of their choice, engage with the scholarly debates in the relevant disciplines, and – with the guidance of a faculty mentor – produce a substantial paper that reflects a deep understanding of the topic.”

         Worldvuze – website for posting questions and receiving answers from people around the world

         iBeacons – Bluetooth devices planted around school. They sync with nearby phones and deliver information to passersby. (ibeacons.com)

         Viacharacter.org (for character surveys, determining areas of strength)

Keynote Speakers – Highlights

1 – Dr. Robyn Conrad Hansen, National Association of Elementary Principals

         Game-based learning, simulations

         Distributive leadership

         4-day school week

         Bring in experts from the community to speak to the students

         Find a mentor, be a mentor

2 – Dr. Joanne Robinson, Ontario Principals Council, Canada

All decisions should be evidence-informed

5 Core Capacities for change/improvement:

  1. setting goals
  2. aligning resources with your priorities
  3. promoting collaborative learning cultures
  4. use data
  5. engage in courageous conversations (don’t be afraid!)

What motivates students?

         Social learning with others

         Link to student interests

         Cultural connections

         Physical activity

         Relevance to wider world




         Intriguing puzzles

GRIT = Growth Resilience Instinct Tenacity

3 – Thomas Guskey and Lee Ann Jung, University of Kentucky

Assessment – we need to challenge teaching traditions, especially percentage grading, giving zeroes and averaging to determine grades


Letter Grades = many levels of passing (A, B, C, D) and one level of failing (F)

Percentage Grades = fewer levels of passing (100, 90, 80, 70) and more levels of failing (60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, 0)

80% = mastery in percentage grading (but is 80% of knowledge really mastering an idea? Would you trust a pilot who successfully lands a plan 80% of the time, or a surgeon who saves 80% of patients?)

Move from percentages to RUBRICS


Zero = an extreme score that a student can never recover from

Zero = missing data (it is not a grade, it should not be punitive)

Remember, even Olympic judges remove the highest & lowest judge scores because using an extreme score could dramatically change an outcome

Instead of zero, use meaningful consequences to fix problem (stay in at lunch, stay after school, etc.)


Averages can get messed up with zeroes

Grades should reflect students’ level of mastery RIGHT NOW, not across time. Did they get there? Not how long did it take to get there?

GPS Analogy

Assessment is like a GPS device. It tells you the Destination, the Current Location and the Directions.

  1. Destination = learning objective
  2. Current Location = current grade right now
  3. Directions to follow = feedback a teacher provides

Spiraling – structure lessons to ensure you always look back at previous topics to build connections and reinforce learning.

Breakout Sessions

Leading Groups – Laura Lipton         

Summary – various ways to keep your lessons (or meetings) focused on growth and learning

  • “Accountability grows out of co-creation”
  • Focus on safety of students/participants, not their comfort
  • Cognitive conflict is okay, not personal conflict
  • Discussions/meetings are not one-off episodes, but are linked to growth
  • Working with others IS our work

Predictable Group Dynamics

  1. Task-oriented people vs. Relationship people
  2. Certainty people vs. Ambiguity people
  3. Details people vs. Big-picture people
  4. Autonomy people vs. Collaboration people

Craft the Container:

  1. a) Starting the conversation– gets you focuses and re-engaged to each other (not simply an ice breaker)
  2. b) Structuring the conversation – participants are learning, discussion leads to growth
  3. c) Sustaining thinking in the conversation – get everyone included

Great Class or Meeting Strategies:

Quotables – open and close meetings with a discussion around a quote

Visual Synectics – comparing two disparate ideas using images and words, to deepen understanding (ie “school improvement is like a fruit market because….”) Good way to start discussions – again, like an ice breaker but more focused

Share the why – whenever you have to get a group to do something, share the why – tell them what you want to do, explain why you need it to be done and how you hope to do it.

Learning partners – organize large, unmanageable groups into smaller pairs. You can use the pairs to create larger sub-groups, like teams of 4, 6, 8, etc…

Think, Write, Pair and Share – better than pairing and sharing, in this model, participants are asked to first think and then write down their thoughts/ideas before sharing with their partner. Deepens understanding.

Focus of Conversation – some sort of object (chart, artifact, etc.) that is something to point to, guide conversations

Make Text the Expert – rather than making meetings you-focused, redirect attention with printed sources = more objective and more perspectives

The Most Important Point – ask participants “What’s the most important point to you so far…?” to promote making personal connections/identifying significant ideas

Eye-contact Partners – ask participants to make eye contact with someone they’d like to work with (just another group-making strategy)

Read and Connect – or Read & Example, Read & Apply, or Read & Highlight) – people read to designated point, they stop and share specific connection (example, application, highlight); then, continue to next stopping point.

Give one to Get one – everyone writes a thought on a card, then they mingle and meet another person. They read ideas to each other. Then, they exchange cards and continue the mingling with the other person’s card.

Group Leaders Design Mind

Purpose – Task vs. Relationships
Task Outcome

         Decision, product

         Requires what actions and what knowledge?

Relational Outcome

         Positive behaviors during meeting/discussion

         Participants are more satisfied afterwards


The ordered steps to follow:

         Size of group, time required, materials needed


         How to achieve objectives


         Relationship between leader and group:

Are you a Presenter? A Collaborator? Or, a Facilitator?

Breakout Sessions

Danielle Gutstein – Math and Social Issues

Summary – make lessons more relevant by building them around social issues (VERY powerful! But, may make some parents uncomfortable…)

Bare facts do not matter, instead focus on context


  1. a) Students studied a city public transit map, then compared that map to one that showed income. Students noted that the subway system was most available in areas with the highest income (and therefore did not need a subway to travel)
  1. b) Data management project – survey staff, faculty and students of school about their home location, method of travelling to school, distance travelled, commuting time. Explore how commuting affects school life. Used graphs, percentages. Questions raised led to further research.
  1. c) Where are your clothes made? – students look at labels on clothes and then plot locations on a map. Students develop theories about why certain locations are chosen for factories. Leads to discussions about capitalism, minimum wages, profit, etc.

Resource: Rethinking Mathematics by Eric Gutstein

Breakout Sessions

Rigor, Challenge and Choice – Anna Sugarman

Summary – teach to the gifted/high-level students to help ALL your students succeed. “A rising tide lifts all boats”

Strategies for scaffolding for gifted students:

  1. a) Urgency – less time makes tasks more challenging
  2. b) Rigor – questions that are complex, ambiguous, contentious, and require additional thought and research (not memorization or recall)

If you use groups or have students in assigned seats, mix them up occasionally. Get them away from comfort zones and their buddies.

Idea: – Layered Curriculum

Give assessments that are designed with multiple difficulty levels. Students choose the level they want to try, but there are consequences ini terms of weighting (ie, easier levels cap possible grade level to 70%, only completing the more difficult levels = 100% grade attainment). I am trying this next week with a test. Should be interesting!

Breakout Sessions

Playing to your Strengths – Dr. Debra Lane, former ES Principal, Shanghai American School

Summary – help students determine and focus on their strengths (to increase positivity, well-being and satisfaction)

Don’t always focus on the negative – try tracking incidents of good character

Students should HAVE TO join character-building organizations while in school (NJHS, student council, etc.)

Activity – have students write to 20 people in their life. Ask people to write about the strengths they perceive in the student (with examples). Students then compile all the responses in a report, focusing on strengths that were mentioned most often.

Happiness = how much gratitude you show

First Turn/Last Turn – a method of sharing ideas with partners. Everyone shares what they feel about a topic (no reactions to the comments of others). Then, go around again focusing on reactions to the ideas that were shared.

Idea – teacher evaluations also include a portfolio of achievements, not simply a one-off visit

Resources: book From Good to Great by Jim Collens

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