On Tuesday, I attended a professional development experience on Genocide. The conference was held at Ramapo College, and while it was raising awareness of several examples, the Armenian Genocide of the First World War era was the focus.
The conference began in typical fashion--opening remarks and a mention (by the fantastic Paul Winkler) of the Holocaust/Genocide mandate for schools to discuss the Holocaust and Genocide (their website has some great resources).
Next, Michael Bobelian gave us some information in lecture form about the Armenian Genocide, giving us the basic outline likely in his book, Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice.
Here's where I started to struggle. It became clear that the lecture format of PD just wasn't going to work for me. I took excellent notes, but struggled in general with the presentation. See, he had a powerpoint with some incredible resources. But, he didn't share it with us. Copies of his book were around the room, and a quick flip through it showed me that the resources in his presentation weren't even there. Luckily, I'm a Google Fanatic, and was able to find some of the resources, supporting information, and the like by searching on my own, and you can see those links in my notes. But the idea of "sage on the stage" instruction is
By this point, I had looked around the room a few times and noticed something else that was very different from my recent PD experiences. After requesting the wireless password (I was told they didn't have one, and would try to get it), I helped one woman connect using her ipad. There were a handful of ipads, one or two besides me with laptops, and every one else of the 70 or so participants had a pad and paper. A pad and paper that would probably go into a desk drawer to only be found at the end of the year or when he/she cleans out the desk one day.
As much as I dislike group work or forced collaboration at conferences, it is clear how much more engaging a presentation becomes when you turn to someone to discuss--even if it's just because you're listening to someone else's ideas and/or voice!
The next piece of the conference was two high school teachers presenting on the pedagogy of teaching Genocide. YAY! Teachers vs professors, I had high hopes for collaboration. Alas, it was again more presentation (though much more sharing of the resources). There seemed to be more time for questions, but it really was a "here's how I do it" sort of thing. That's not to say it wasn't valuable; in fact, there were a ton of resources shared and instructional/assessment tools that could be applied to areas of Social Studies beyond Genocide. It's just something different from what I expect from PD these days.
After an hour for lunch (everyone at my table was wondering what to do with themselves for the remaining 40 minutes after finishing!), we heard from a panel of survivors. For some reason, despite this again being listening with no graphics, it was incredibly engaging. Hearing their stories, hearing what they think we should be doing to stop Genocide, hearing their takes on the big picture, really had a huge impact. When considering how best to present Genocide to students, clearly survivor stories and testimony is the way to go. Nothing humanizes inhumanity better than hearing stories from survivors (and their descendants, as the case was for one woman on the panel here), and few things work better for history than storytelling.