Igniting Learning: Reflecting on the Ignite Format for Professional Learning and Students

Tuesday, April 4, 20175:16 PM

Five minutes. Twenty slides. Fifteen seconds. The Ignite format (learn more at http://www.ignitetalks.io) is rigid in its structure but has so much potential in our schools. In your average presentation, the presenter controls the pace, whether it’s students in our classrooms or facilitators for professional learning. But with an Ignite, the pace is predetermined; instead, the presenter focuses on the story.

I’ve had the privilege of giving two Ignite talks over the past year. Last month, I participated in a series of Ignites at my local PNW BOCES, discussing deweaponizing grades and improving student reflection in our classrooms. Find my talk below, and the slides at the bottom of this post. A few months earlier, I had the pleasure of giving a talk at Google for New Visions Cloud Lab--I wrote all about it in Never Grade Again! My New Visions Ignite Talk.

With the format again fresh in my head, I can’t help but reflect on its potential. First and foremost, a good Ignite talk requires a story--the presenter needs to hook the audience with a message, story, or theme about the topic. I don’t want to talk about technology, but about how technology has redefined relationships with my students, for examples. More than that, I want to share the specific stories of the students who helped me learn a lesson or make a change. I want to connect on an emotional level first.

And whether the presenter is an adult or kid, teacher or student, learning to connect with an audience is essential. Storytelling, empathy, and understanding your audience matters in and out of our schools.

After the story come the fundamentals: good presentation skills, rehearsal, a strong script, pacing, and most of all, expert knowledge. Because the slides move on their own, the presentation can’t stop for anyone--the pressure is on the presenter to be the presentation with the slides as a tool to tell the story. It’s hard to read off the slides before a 15 second transition. A good presenter can be flexible and adapt, and can absolutely use the slides to highlight key ideas, quotes, or examples, but it’s really the speech that matters most. A good talk without the slides can have impact, but there’s few things worse than a presentation that’s all about the slides or could have been an e-mail.

Right now, my students are working on brainstorming their Genius Hour projects in #GenreGenius. After spring break, they will deliver elevator pitches, sharing their passions and plans. While I’ve loved their work and learning over the past two years of these projects, I haven’t been as successful in planning for them to present and share their learning with authentic audiences. I’ve considered TED Talks, or something similar, and am now fascinated by the Ignite format as a possible way to share our genius.

In fact, I’d love to see more Ignite-style talks throughout education. Whether it’s the exact format or not, we could all benefit from sharing stories about our challenges and successes in short, focused, and purposeful presentations. Let’s use Ignite talks to inspire meaningful conversations and learning for both teachers and students. We are all experts in something, and five minutes is the perfect amount of time for us all to share our genius.

Share your experience with the Ignite format. How do you think it could be used with teachers and students? Please share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.

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