I certainly didn’t expect organizers waving pompoms enthusiastically in welcome or debating the merits of jellybeans versus chocolate with a complete stranger (shout out to Houston Kraft for this icebreaker) when Kevin Rokuskie first described the Association of Middle Level Educators Conference (AMLE).
As it turns out, there may have been nothing that could have prepared me for the sheer explosive energy of thousands of middle school teachers and faculty combined into one convention room, ready to connect and share their passion for educating the world’s preteens.
Held November 3 to November 5 at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, AMLE featured a weekend jam-packed with moving keynote speakers, rotating “speed session” workshops, and illuminating presentations on everything from social emotional learning to community engagement to the very tools helping to keep our classrooms running.
Prior to our arrival Kevin and I had spent weeks preparing our presentation on last year’s brand-new virtual reality in Egypt activity, “History Made Real: Learning Ancient Civilizations and World Religions in Virtual Reality.” For 15 minutes at a time, we would explain to other educators and administrators how the collaboration between a sixth-grade Language Arts and World Cultures teacher and an Education and Technology Support Specialist resulted in a week of some of the highest student engagement all year using a combination of Z-Space, VR headsets, and MERGE Cube technology. To our delight, our table ended up becoming one of the most popular attractions during the speed sessions, resulting in meeting a university professor who was excited to learn from us how to implement VR into her post-secondary curriculum.
Our strategy for the rest of the conference was to divide and conquer, so while Kevin engaged in meaningful conversations with various vendors as well as attended sessions on advisory and social emotional learning, I found myself learning about social studies frameworks, how to better support our gender expansive students, techniques for total classroom participation, self-paced learning, how to support children with ADHD challenges (from a teacher who had been successfully navigating his own ADHD for decades), empowering youth with restorative justice practices, and many sessions on community partnerships.
Every day it continued to amaze me to see the degree of knowledge, care, and expertise with which these presenters talked about their curriculum and student support, and I left the conference filled to the brim with a desire to challenge myself in my teaching to new professional heights. Kevin describes professional development as a “vital tool at Cary Academy” that “only makes the community better.” I know that I speak for both of us when I say that I cannot wait to find ways to share my new knowledge with my colleagues and look forward to returning, maybe with my own pompoms this time!