A Twist on Traditional Conference Style Learning

I wrote a post earlier in which I explained a conference our school recently hosted called Lausanne Learning Institute of the Southwest. A conference in which we offered a day of general sessions and a day in which fishbowl sessions occurred on our campus with our students. To read that post, click here.

Day 1 of the conference offered a new twist on conference style learning. I have attended many conferences/workshops in the past that have ranged from sit-and-get to general sessions that actively engage and involve the audience. However, I have never attended, nor have I actually heard of, a conference offering a fishbowl type setting in which students are taught in front of your very eyes.

What did the fishbowl day look like?

  • 20 educators sat around the perimeter of the room observing while one teacher from various schools chose a topic and taught live in front of the observing teachers
  • Teachers from 53 different schools proposed fishbowl topics 
  • Teachers let us know what grade level they needed, and what prior knowledge the students needed to have before teaching them
  • Fishbowl sessions lasted 45 minutes followed by a 45 minute debrief
  • 4 fishbowl sessions were offered throughout the day 
  • Fishbowl session topics included: 
According to the immediate feedback we received from our participants, the fishbowls were a huge success. Teachers mentioned that rarely do we get to see ideas in action, so this was an interesting way to run a conference. Educators mentioned that they loved the fact that they could see a lesson in action and then were given time to debrief, share other ideas, or ask questions amongst a group of fellow educators. The feedback we received from the students included quotes such as:
  • “Being taught by a new teacher, was weird and cool all at the same time! You didn’t know what to expect.” 
  • “Learning how to use lockboxes was so much more fun than a worksheet. We used math to open the lockboxes instead of just writing our answers down on paper. The teacher who taught the lesson was fun because he not only taught us the lesson, but he connected with us on rap music.” 
  • “I thought it was going to be hard to be taught by someone we didn’t know, but it ended up being a fun experience.”
Planning for a fishbowl setting during a conference was no easy task. We asked the presenters for their topic, a brief description of what will be occurring during the session, grade level, and prior knowledge in order to create the schedule for the day. The challenge, on top of the fact that it was a “normal” day of school with our normal 900 or so people on campus, was that we were adding 200 additional people to a flexible schedule. We ended up silencing all bells for the day and had someone announce on the loud speakers when to rotate. Although the schedule was an ever changing document that took months to create, it ended up being executed flawlessly. 
Participants reflected upon the fact that they enjoyed the fishbowl setting, topic selections, and flow of the schedule. Based upon feedback from participants as well as our own observations, we plan to make some minor adjustments next year, such as:
  • Offer less time during the debriefing periods which allows for more time to network casually
  • Ensure there are topics offered for all divisions as well as disciplines
  • Continue to focus on hands-on inquiry as well as Makerspaces
  • Offer general sessions on tech integration
Some feedback from our participants: 

2 thoughts on “A Twist on Traditional Conference Style Learning”

  1. As an attendee at LLI Southwest, I would concur that the Fishbowl Sessions were an incredible experience. I enjoyed being both a presenter and session participant. It is truly a best practice in delivering professional development to teachers. The students and staff at The Oakridge School were awesome!


  2. Chaka- Thank you so much for joining as at LLISW and for your comment. I would love to hear any ideas you have for LLISW 2018. Do you have any topics you would love to see in action during fishbowl sessions?


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