This past Saturday I was down in Des Moines for my second Edcamp. Edcamps are awesome in that it is a time for educators to come together to discuss and share ideas about education. There is no set schedule, no list of presenters, definitely no handouts but there is a lot of learning and collaborating going on. I was at Edcamp Iowa last year in Storm Lake and came away with a great liking of this type of “un-conference.” Since this is on a Saturday and is free, there is a great opportunity for educators to get together.
Edcamps are pretty simple but can be confusing to someone who is so used to the old way of doing an education conference. You start the day by getting together in a big room where there is some way to access the schedule. At Storm Lake they tried using a Google Doc but this weekend we just used big pieces of paper. People could come up and write down what topic they wanted to discuss in session. There were no presenters, only facilitators. There was no tool to be taught to everyone, this was not a sit and git type of event. The attendees decided what we did for the day.
Edcamps are also a great way to finally meet the teachers and other educators that you meet online. I was able to finally put a real face with the picture next to the twitter handle of a lot of people. I have been able to connect with a good number of great educators on Twitter but it is always great to finally meet them face to face. I also got to add a lot of new educators to my follow list and even had a good number of people start following me. This serves to only strengthen my PLN that I have built thanks to Twitter.
Edcamps are not just useful for the educators that attend, it can also be useful for their colleagues. If we do not share what we learn, who we connected with and how we can improve as an educator, we are not doing justice to these type of events. I think every educator should always come back from a conference ready to share what they did and learned. That sharing can take place in the physical setting or the digital setting. You can share at a staff meeting or by doing what I am doing now, writing a blog post. The main thing is that you should always share what you learn.
Session 1 : Creating a more engaging PD.
Many teachers have a big issue with how standard professional development is carried out, unless they really want to finish their Words With Friends game. The style of “sit and git” that happens is not something that we want to do for our students, yet we are so readily able to do that with our teachers. Some of the big points that we came away with deal with what we do after the training and what is expected as we go into the training. There needs to be some sort of expectations and guidelines going into any PD and there should be something produced afterwards. In order to produce that artifact, hopefully something that actually matters to the teacher and fits into their classroom, there needs to be time to produce it. Teachers also need to be asked what they want to learn and be given options for their learning. PD can also be in smaller formats where a trainer is trained in each department so that the learning is more focused on the content area rather than in a general way.
Session 2: 21st Century classroom makeovers
The two main teachers who facilitated this discussion teach lower elementary classes. Their ideas and setups though can easily be used in the upper levels. I have personally taught grades 7-12 so I was able to view their ideas in my own lens for the upper levels. Their classrooms were not centered around the teacher, they were centered around the students. The students were not sitting in rows and not all facing the front whiteboard. There were different areas of the classroom setup so students could choose where they want to work and how they want to work. Groups were not always able to easily see and interact with other groups, which was a benefit. Students knew where to go to get the materials they needed and were able to do this without interfering with the learning by others. The desks had legs removed so students could sit on the floor to work or sit on the desks themselves. There were uses of furniture that were not the intended uses but the goal is to create learning areas that fit the needs and wants of the students.
Now the question many will have is how can we apply this to the higher level classrooms. The first thing I would focus is on is a moving away from the setups of rows where everyone is focused on the teacher. The classroom will not be focused on the learner until they are not always being forced to focus on the teacher. The use of soft furniture can create a more comfortable learning environment that can improve learning. The goal is to try to find a way that keeps us from just lecturing all the time and then wondering why the students are not engaged or being creative.
Session 3: Rocks or Sucks
This was a very fun but also thought provoking session where we had to move around to show how we felt about various issues. We had to defend our stance and then had a friendly debate about it. We could not put down the other groups, everything had to be productive and useful. I was helping someone with an issue so I missed the first part of this session but I was able to make it back in time for topics like homework, report cards, internet filters and teacher tenure. This can be a very useful way to discuss topics with other educators but there needs to be some structure such as a timer and a moderator. I can easily see this as something a staff could do on a PD day or even morning.
Session 4 dealt with a chance for technology integrationists to come together to discuss various issues such as the titles we have and how they affect how people view us. Too many times teachers will view a technology integrationist as tech support instead of an instructional coach who can help with the pedagogy side instead of just the tech side. We do not just teach tools, that we can do but that should not be the focus of our position.
Overall I feel that Edcamp can be a great situation for any educator to improve and get energized. Even if you were not able to attend this Edcamp, you can find out a lot of information by following the tweets and blog posts, check #edcampdsm on Twitter for the tweets and links to blog posts. I look forward to the next Edcamp in Iowa which will happen in the spring. There are Edcamps all around us in other states and they seem to be increasing in numbers every year. Go out and find an Edcamp to attend, make connections with other teachers and get that exposure to ideas that are not your own but yet may be something you adopt. The goal of any educator should to be always improving, we can not allow ourselves to become stagnant and say that mediocrity is good enough. If we avoid learning, how can we expect our students to embrace learning.