So my wife asked me if I actually learned anything from my third helping of Ed Camp. My first two experiences; EdCampSFBAY 1 in Oakland, and EdCampSocialStudies in Philadelphia, were extremely positive experiences and there was a thought that maybe the conferences were going to start to sound a tad repetitious. I actually had that concern as well on my way down there on Saturday morning around 7 a.m.
Though not totally about technology, almost all the sessions within EdCamp 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, although a little tougher on Saturday because Hillsdale High School in San Mateo had no Internet. But usually 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. I walked out of none.
After the meet-and-greet, and the presentation of session ideas, I chose a session about 1st Day class ideas by Catlin Tucker, teacher at Windsor High School not far from where I teach. She’s very into the ideas of class flipping and tech integration. Some of the first day ideas were very good. I then got ideas of some of the ed tech she was using in the classroom; Google Sites, Google Voice, Socrative, and Remind 101. Catlin is a very powerful teacher, and I haven’t spent one second in her class or read one word of her book. She just exudes good teaching. I did a ton of listening in her session, period.
The next session was titled “Bridging the Achievement Gap using Technology and PBL”. This was more of a discussion than anything else and I provided more input than anything else. I stuck around because I wanted to get more PBL strategies but the conversation kept going tech, tech, tech….and I’m of the opinion that technology is not the answer to bridging the achievement gap, good teaching is. I’ll get to that later.
My third session was my most productive, “New Ways of Thinking About a Flipped Classroom”. It included a teacher from Marin County, a teacher from Hillsdale in San Mateo, and a teacher Facetimed in from North Carolina. Instead of the technical aspects of Flipping, the teachers actually attempted (I say that because I’m not sold on everything) to address the actual pedagogical issues around the idea of individualized student mastery. First, focus on the best use of face-to-face time. Second, focus on Higher Order Thinking Skills, focus on student-centered and student-managed learning. I liked that the focus got away from the whole “video outside the room” model and really tried to explain the mindset of flipped classrooms.
My fourth session was the ever popular “Things that Suck”, where teachers discuss and debate all sorts of issues that revolve around education. Teachers always have opinions on things about education (go figure), yet this session was a little more measured. Comments about things like network filters and homework had plenty of teachers thinking in the realm of “what is”, not “utopia would look like this.” I also notice that some teachers really have no clue about technological that exist for a lot of schools. The conversation about 1 to 1 classrooms (one computer, preferably mobile, for one student) was thick and pretty unrealistic. People were talking about dropping computer labs as if everyone has one. Hey, I’d like one up and running before the plan comes down to get rid of it.
My final session was called The Smackdown, which is basically when volunteers quickly come up and describe some kind of ed tech situation that will help the teacher. Believe it or not, 99% of the stuff is gold; stuff that you just want to use tomorrow because it is so damn cool/useful/awesome. I contributed Hippocampus.org, a location where people that really want to Flip using videos can use those already created for many subject areas. My favorite applications of ed tech included Flubaroo, Dropitto.me, Youtube’s ability to clip its videos, and a cheap mobile document camera from IPEVO.
People drove from all over California and Oregon to attend EdCampSFBay and I would like to think it will not be my last. I get a lot of information from them although sometimes it feels like you really have to buy into a certain type of pedagogy to be taken seriously. I was happy to see teachers this year that were a little more receptive to the idea that technology is a tool, not the answer. But the complete objection to state standards (“they are only for weak teachers”) and calling the philosophy of Direct Instruction “Sage on Stage” (as a negative) really turns off a lot of really good teachers. I immediately sent out a Tweet after the Standards comment that I thought that quote was shit, and the conversation went nowhere fast. Anything done the old way, even if was and is effective, is pretty shunned. New is better, even if there is no evidence that it really is.
Still, I get so much good knowledge from EdCamp that I can’t help not going. I do make small changes here and there to my teaching and much of it comes out positive. That’s what professional development is supposed to be about.