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World conference at Clarkston High



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November 07, 2012 - Educators from around the world filled Clarkston High School – their mission, to learn the latest in teaching techniques.

"More independent learning, new techniques to increase depth of understanding," said Laura Lawson, Bloomfield Hills Middle School teacher.

Lawson and about 700 of her colleagues attended the international Harvard Project Zero Conference, Nov. 2-3 at the high school.

Jeff Licht travelled from the nation's capitol to take part.

"I'm happy to be here," said Licht, an English teacher at Washington International School. "My school uses Project Zero ideas, so this is a way to catch up and get a better understanding of thinking routines. I had no idea so many people were involved. I met someone here who works just down the street from me. It's nice to make connections."

Clarkston Community Schools adopted the Project Zero teaching strategy "A Culture of Thinking" a year and a half ago. Culture of Thinking teaches students better thinking skills, as opposed to fact and basic skills memorization. 

"This is about broad development of the mind as students grow up with lifelong thinking skills, not just memorizing information for tests," said Dr. Rod Rock, superintendent of Clarkston Community Schools. "We're sharing with educators from around the world how to change the way for students to experience education."

Presenters included Harvard writers Howard Gardner, David Perkins, Ron Ritchhart, Shari Tishman, Tina Blythe, Daniel Wilson and Veronica Boix Mansilla, as well as Clarkston teachers and administrators.

"Project Zero has strong ties to the Clarkston Community Schools District, and we are delighted to be collaborating with the district for our November conferences," said Tishman, director of Project Zero.

Superintendent Rock is a frequent presenter at Project Zero conferences and events, she said.

"His visionary leadership never fails to inspire educators from around the world," she said.

This is a first for an entire public school district in the United States, she added.

The conference included visits to Clarkston classrooms at Springfield Plains Elementary, Pine Knob Elementary, Clarkston High School, and Sashabaw Middle School to see students engaged in Cultures of Thinking, Rock said.

A group of 14 teachers and administrators from River Valley High School in Singapore extended their stay beyond the conference, visiting with Sashabaw Middle School staff for part of the day on Nov. 5. A group of about 25 parents from Clarkston also participated in the conference.

Presentations focused on collaborative learning, educating for global competence and making learning and thinking visible, using creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, communication, application, analysis and evaluation techniques.

Kathleen Noble, first grade teacher at Bailey Lake Elementary, was a presenter, explaining how she implemented Culture of Thinking in her classroom.

"We showed what a culture of thinking looks like, how to get it down to the kids' level – it's all over the walls," Noble said. "It's interesting."

Lawson learned how to challenge students to think more independently.

"The teacher as facilitator of learning, helping students ask better questions, guiding thinking rather than just give them information," she said.

Kristen Mrozek, Renaissance High School teacher in Clarkston, learned how to implement culture of thinking in her foreign language classroom.

"One technique is 'See-Think-Wonder,'" Mrozek said.

"Students look at a picture, think of vocabulary words, see the words, think about sentences, turn them into paragraphs. It's a way to build a foundation," she said.

Gina Joy Roemer, member of Clarkston Foundation and parent of Sashabaw Middle School and Clarkston High School students, volunteered at the event.

"I was prepared for hours of volunteering; but what I came to realize was that they afforded me an amazing two-day journey about learning and thinking with international travelers, without having to leave Clarkston," Roemer said. "I'm thankful for all those efforts and generosity to include me. I am so excited to start, or actually participate in the continuance of building a culture of thinking in our Clarkston community."

Clarkston is one of 13 Oakland County school districts working with Project Zero researchers to apply Culture of Thinking routines in its classrooms. The collaboration is expected to continue for at least five more years.

Clarkson Board of Education committed $40,000 for the conference from the professional development budget, Rock said.

Local businesses donated about $25,000 in sponsorships, including Bordines, Little Caesars, Clarkston-Brandon Credit Union, Clarkston State Bank, Jostens, Mike and Trish Page, McLaren, Clarkston Foundation, Dickinson-Wright, Set-Seg Insurance, CMU's Institute for Excellence in Education, Oakland Schools, Aerohive Networks, which provided building-wide wireless for the conference, Learning-Forward Michigan, Waterford Community Schools, Bloomfield-Hills Schools, and Shepherd's Hollow, which hosted the presenters' dinner on Thursday.

"Our teachers heard from some of the world's leading authorities on teaching and learning. They also heard from colleagues from around the world, and our teachers and leaders shared their classroom practices with the world," Rock said. "This was an amazing showcase of the excellence of the Clarkston community and its school system."

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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