Monday, August 29, 2011

Hello #EdCampSFBay

My final professional development opportunity of the summer was on the Saturday before school began and was located at Skyline High School in Oakland, California.  The idea of EdCamp is that you have no prepared sessions at all when you arrive.  Then sessions go up a board that are directed by whoever is there; teachers, professors, ed tech professionals, software developers, any interested parties.  Then the unconference (as edcamps are named) visitors vote with their feet and attend a session for a little over an hour. 

Though not totally about technology, almost all the sessions are somehow geared towards engaging students through the use of all sorts of hardware, software, or Internet goodies.  Presentations are conducted using this technology so the whole presentation is not a lecture, it’s an engaging experience.  Everyone in the room has an iPad, laptop, or a netbook, and everyone is constantly on it.  Twitter backchannelling is active and strongly encouraged.  People share thoughts online while in the same room or in other rooms.  You get comments from other sessions while you are in your own.  Don’t like the current one?  Leave and go to another.  It’s encouraged.  So what did my day look like….I mean after I got there and was given a swag bag full of goodies from Edutopia and Collaborize?  Oh, did I mention that almost all the tech at EdCamp is free to use.  Hello?  Anyone there?

-First session was dealing with Disturbing the Class.  Basically it was ideas about becoming a “disruptive” force against the norm. It included conversation stretching from how to bring schools into a new attitude towards technology, to trying to shift environments to engage student learning.  I've already used part of this when dealing with assignments that could have been done in the classroom.  Instead of doing a museum art walk in-doors, I took it outside in the open.  In response the students were more engaged and more interested in the task at hand, simply because of environmental shift. Very good first session. 

-Second was titled “Turn your School into a Tech Center”.  It was more geared toward networking for an entire school system, so I left and went a workshop that dealt with testing and techniques.  It was well done but kept going back to complaining about high-stakes testing.  You can only complain so much about testing.  Eventually people have to accept that right now it’s a way of life. It was interesting to hear ideas though.

-Third session was how to develop kids into good “digital citizens”.  This session was all about the impact of the Internet on students and the interaction with students/teachers online.  It was interesting to hear the different policies and feelings about things like “friending” on Facebook.  The ranged spanned from open communication to absolute paranoia.  It was a excellent free flow of conversation and ideas.  I was done a tad early and went over to watch information on Flipped Classrooms, where I found out how to us QR codes to make more technology mobile.  That ten minute session worked. I’ve already used QR codes in my class this year.

-Fourth session dealt with a simple discussion on technology and engagement related student issues.  The breakouts included social network interaction, the value of home, merit pay, and the future of the technology classroom.  Teachers have all kinds of views on this controversial topics, although I noticed that a lot of traditional verbiage (like “homework”) has been locked into a negative context.  That needs to change.

-My final session of interesting.  A woman had come back to the Bay Area from India with the idea of creating a network that connects students with community figures/projects/resources.  Her justification was that the best way for kids to learn was to engage directly with local issues and she was working to facilitate that.  It was very informative.

Here’s the thing.  I can’t really express the massive amount I gained from sessions I never attended, from people with a willingness to share, and during conversations that sometimes started from nothing in particular.  The vibe of EdCamp is so relaxed and collaborative that the slightest little thing sets off a torrent of ideas.  Then the ideas are on Twitter and the backchannels light up.  That’s when the real magic happens.  I wanted to attend the Live Binder session, the QR code session, the mobile tech session, and another few that I didn’t get to see live, but got enough of a taste to arouse curiosity and explore those options in my classroom.  It made me want more,  so I’ve started to look for it.  Quite the liberating and energizing experience.  And it makes you want more EdCamps.

A note for those that are considering attending an EdCamp; don’t allow the naivety of some of the participants to discourage you.  Not all the people that attend are classroom teachers.  You have a large gambit of people all with the intent on using tech to engage students.  But these people sometimes speak as if Utopia can be found through the use of technology.  That five years from now every kid will have Internet, an iPad, and all of the sudden become self actualized, life-long learners.  And while some of the higher end schools can afford iPads in the hands of every child, most California schools can’t.  That’s when the standard classroom teacher steps in and says things like “funding”, “socio-economics”, “standards”, “reality”.  And guess what, there were plenty of us there.  But after we keep people grounded, we then explore the methods that we COULD use in our classrooms to engage students.  Between Utopia and Reality is progress, and we are all stake holders in making students succeed.  Fine, “flipping a classroom” is not going to work in most of California.  But instead, we should ask how we can get more information to kids in different ways outside the classroom while increasing engagement and critical thinking during class time.  Fine, so only 20% of my students have “smart phones”.  But we can create lessons where those 20% can be divided into groups and have QR codes to primary source documents students need to analysis for a DBQ.  And the documents can be structured orderly in terms of analytical rigor which allows students to work at their own pace……….I mean the potential is nuts.

And in the end, the one comment that resonated with me is that if we do not try to engage students using this technology we have before us, we are doing a monumental disservice to the next generation of students we are preparing to succeed in society.  That is why I’ll be going back to EdCamp. 

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