Monday, April 21, 2014

Why #Edcamp Is So Awesome

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending another Edcamp. This one makes 7 for me. #EdcampElon was another event in a long like of teacher-driven professional development that can have a lasting impact on the learning of all who attend.

Don't know what an Edcamp is or looks like?

My experience with Edcamp has been that of a participant and an organizer (EdcampNC!). And seeing it from all sides really helps me believe that Edcamp, is quite possibly the best Professional Development I've had.

But why?

I really think it comes down to 3 things.

1) Attendees

EdcampElon brought together teachers, administrators and education professionals from across NC and beyond. It was a very diverse group with K-12, higher ed, all subject areas, experiences and locations represented. I knew just looking around the room at who was there, the day was going to be great. And they did not disappoint. During the sessions every person contributed. No matter how small or in what way, every single voice that was at EdcampElon was heard. We could deeply disagree about a common theme and that was ok. We listened to each other and pushed each others thinking.

Edcamp appeals to educators from all walks of life. It's not just teachers, or just admin or just other groups that attend. It's a diverse group with a diverse background that makes the Edcamp experience a rich one.

2) Sessions

It was clear even before the event that deciding on sessions was going to be difficult. There was a Twitter chat before EdcampElon to help prepare folks before they came and to get ideas on what folks wanted to talk about. The Padlet board was filled with ideas even before Saturday came. And when the time came to decide on what we talk about it was a mad dash to the board to get your session there. It wasn't just people who had experience on a topic that wanted to share. It was people who had something they were struggling with that they wanted the wisdom of the crowd to talk about it.

That was the case with my session, "To Flip or Not To Flip." I make no bones about the fact I think flipping, in the commercialized way it has gotten, is terrible for kids. I knew there were going to be flipping experts there so I wanted to have a conversation about it. I only had my point of view. I wanted that of the others. It wasn't a presentation and it wasn't a lecture. It was a conversation about the pros and cons. In the end both sides came away with a better understanding and lots to think about.

The sessions at an Edcamp you would be hard pressed to find any where else. The Edcamp setting is more conducive to conversation rather than the lecture. And lecture is discouraged anyway at an Edcamp. The diversity of the attendees lends itself to a diversity of sessions proposed which helps push the learning of everyone there.

3) Collaboration

Hands down, the best thing that came out of EdcampElon were the collaborative notes. Once the sessions were decided on, docs were set up so that during each session participants could add notes so we all had takeaways. Again, its the wisdom of the crowd. So while I was in an amazing session on digital leadership (which you should really check out the notes for) I could watch the notes for the BYOD or Twitter chats session. And even if I couldn't watch the notes in real time, I had them afterwards.

Sure, I've been to plenty of workshops and conferences where there were collaborative notes. But never had I been anywhere when there were notes like that for every session. And it wasn't a big deal to set up or organize. When the session started someone asked if there was anyone willing to take notes. Most of the time someone was already on the doc and had started. That kind of collaboration lends itself to deep learning and understanding.

I had a great time at EdcampElon. There is lots I was able to reflect on during the drive home and plenty to consider this week. I encourage you, if there is an Edcamp near you, go. You won't regret it. And if there isn't one near you, start one. You could provide the professional development of a lifetime for another educator. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Things That Have Me Thinking-4/18

This is my series where I explore a few things that I have seen or heard about that is pushing my thinking, getting me to see something a different way or just something I want to share. This week we look at the 3 things about apps I've been exploring.

Field Day- I have been doing a lot of work lately investigating and helping teachers learn what authentic-based learning means. In a sense, its providing real-world problems that mean something to students, aligned to standards. One way we’ve been doing that in classrooms for a while now is Problem-Based Learning (PBL). Now, with the proliferation of mobile devices into classrooms there could be a true renaissance in learning. There is no doubt that the mobile devices can help with PBL but often students are using many apps to organize and create content.

Enter Field Day.

This app is specifically designed with PBL in mind. It provides a space for kids to organize their ideas, enter data through a variety of sources (web, photos, etc) and a summary so making presentations is quick and easy. My favorite part is the strategies section that helps students get going with their thinking and it’s aligned to Blooms Taxonomy. Even better the app is free so it makes it easy to get it going in your classroom.

Codding- It seems like many of the conferences I got to lately have specific sessions or strands dedicated to teaching kids how to code. And thats a good thing. Coding teaches so many crucial skills like critical thinking, math reasoning, artistic design and more. There is even a whole movement dedicated to get kids coding and see its not just nerds in dark rooms writing gibberish on the black screen. And again, with mobile devices becoming more and more prevalent in the classroom, coding is becoming easier to integrate into any curriculum.

CodeAcademy is one of my favorite and addictive apps. The app is simple, teaching coding and HTML in a few basic steps. At the end you have a webpage that you built from scratch, through coding you can share.

Daisy The Dinosaur-For our littlest coders, Daisy is designed to show kids how different coding actions do different things. Creating strings of commands, kids can make Daisy do all sorts of things.  

Cargo-Bot- This is another one I am having trouble putting down. Its a game, but through the game you learn the effects programming have on your potential outcomes. The goal is to follow the commands to do something with a crate. By putting together strings of commands you make the crane do things like pick up, move, toss, etc. Each level gets progressively more difficult but you really get a grasp for the power of programming.

Where To Find Apps- As we’ve seen there are some really great apps out there to learn all sorts of things, organize all sorts of things or to just have fun. While the cream usually rises to the top, what about the hidden gems in the App Store? How do you find the good stuff or weed out the bad?

Teachers With Apps-This site is one of my first stops when looking for apps. Organized by category its really easy to find reviews, information and more on the apps teachers are using in their classrooms. The blog posts are great too, helping find collections to recommend to teachers.

TCEA iPad Apps-This doc, organized by content area is constantly updated with iPad apps. There are sections for administrators, special needs and stuff thats just plain fun too.

Android4Schools-iPads aren’t the only devices out there. Many districts have Android devices. Richard Byrne of Free Technology For Teachers fame created a site to highlight good Android apps to use in the classroom. Loads of good stuff here.

So that is the stuff that has me thinking. What about you? What are you thinking about this week?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Reinventing The Classroom Virtual Conference #reinvent14

This is a really awesome time to be in the classroom. From Bring Your Own Device to Web 2.0 tools to students connecting across oceans, there are some pretty incredible things happening with learning.

The new Reinventing The Classroom Virtual Conference aims to discover and share the most innovative, long-lasting and creative projects and share in a global conversation about what is right with education, world-wide.

Taking place on Thursday May 1, 2014, educators will gather online to share in several strands:

  • Teaching With Technology
  • Student Devices
  • Online Learning
  • Subject Specific Edtech
  • Creative Edtech
  • Web 2.0 and Social Software
  • Administrative Support

Odds are you are doing something great that deserves to be shared with the world. The conference is looking for presenters willing to share for a hour what they are doing, thinking, seeing or making. But don’t wait. The call for proposals closes April 25. You can learn more about submitting here.

The great thing about conferences like this is that it will last almost 24 hrs! So no matter where you are in the world you can take part in the learning. The hashtag for the conference is #reinvent14 so you can follow conversations on Twitter too. And there will be archives posted to the conference site if you can’t join that day.

I hope you can join on May 1 and I hope you’ll consider sharing a session.

Special thanks to ClassFlow for sponsoring!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Learning and Programing With @GoSphero

A few weeks ago the folks over at Orbotix sent me a Sphero to try out. I had seen them before so when given the chance to get hands on I couldn't resist.

What is a Sphero?

So as you can see it's a robotic ball that you control via Bluetooth from your smartphone or tablet.

But it's more than that too.

There are a slew of apps that you can download that allow you to take your Sphero to the next level.

Interested in Augmented Reality? The Rolling Dead app uses your Sphero to navigate through your world to destroy the onslaught of zombie hordes.

Are you an aspiring golfer? Sphero Golf follows a virtual course that you set up where ever you are. The Sphero is your ball. The trick is you have to program the strokes just right to get the Sphero in the hole.

But Sphero is more than just games. Where I see the benefit of this little ball is the programming.

There are several apps that allow you to get into the brain of Sphero to see how it works and how making slight adjustments, changes the way it behaves. Two of my favorites are MacroLab and orbBasic for Sphero. This app contains several basic, pre-loaded programs for you. This gives you a sense of how things work. Then you can enter each and begin making adjustments. Feeling confident? Try to start programing from scratch.

What I really enjoy is you can see your output immediately with your Sphero. There really is a sense of satisfaction, even if it doesn't do exactly what you thought it would.

As if Sphero didn't already belong in every classroom, they've just released Sphero for Education, an effort to get kids thinking about programming and doing it too. They've created some great lessons on things like rate and time, geometry and percentages and they have loads of examples of how others are using their Sphero's in their classrooms. They are real-world but the kids learn programing too. They also have a deal on getting a classroom pack of Sphero for your classroom.

The Sphero would make a great edition to any STEM or STEAM classroom!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Things That Have Me Thinking-March 28

This is my series where I explore a few things that I have seen or heard about that is pushing my thinking, getting me to see something a different way or just something I want to share. This week we look at the 3 things that have me excited this week.

It’s Complicated-For adults, what teenagers do online has been somewhat of a mystery. We assume they spend their days writing about relationships or drama or other stuff. Researcher Danah Boyd set out to confirm the myths or deny them altogether.

In her new book It’s Complicated Danah talks with groups of teens all over the country to get to the bottom of their online, social lives and to see what really matters to them when it comes to living in this digital world. She examines how services like Instagram and Snapchat really shape their thinking and takes a hard look at cyberbullying, it’s affects and what is really happening.

I’ve just started reading my copy and I am excited to dive deeper. It should be required reading for any educator working with pre-teens or teens. We need to better understand the world they are growing up so we can reach them and teach them better.

You can buy the book on Amazon or download a PDF copy for free on Danah’s website.

Edcamp USDOE- As someone who has had the honor of attending several Edcamps and the pleasure of being an Edcamp organizer I am super excited about this announcement.

The Edcamp Foundation has partnered with the US Department of Education to host the first ever Edcamp USDOE.


You don’t know what an Edcamp is?

At it’s core it’s an independently organized day of professional development for teachers. Sessions are decided on by the participants that day and really meet the needs of who is attending. (You can read more about Edcamps here and see some in action too.)

Edcamp USDOE will bring together Educators with policy makers for some deep conversations about the direction we are going as a nation around education. (You can read more about what will be taking place here.)

It will be free to attend but because they are limited on space, there will be a lottery for a ticket. So be sure to sign up early!

Blogging as Publishing: I lurked on a great conversation about how much the world of publishing has changed, just over the course of the last few years. The power isn’t in the hands of publishing houses any more. Rather, we all have the ability to send our stories and ideas to the masses with the click of a publish button on our blogs. These spaces used to be seen as the location of the ramblings of someone with a keyboard and an idea.

However, now, blogs are serious business and have grown up alot. They do give everyone a voice. And think about what it can do for students. I enjoy following #Comments4Kids to see blog posts from kids from all over. Kids get to have their own spaces to openly share and reflect. (You can see more resources for learning about classroom blogging here.) So, go out, create a space and publish something for the world!

So that has me thinking. What has got you thinking this week?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Redesigning and Rethinking Conferences-Reflections On #ASCD14

I recently returned from a trip to Los Angeles where I attended the annual ASCD conference. This is one of my favorite conferences of the year because of the diversity of the sessions offered. Everything from Edtech to Teacher Leadership, I usually come away with lots of ideas for going forward or things to think about. 

And this conference was no different. 

I had 2 big take-aways that will keep me thinking for a while...

One was on the type of session offered. 

There was loads of great content. Again, ASCD does a great job of picking sessions. 

What I mean is the method of delivery. Many of the attendees are comfortable with the sit and get, lecture type, while few enjoy the participatory style. I experienced this first hand in one session I delivered that was very hands on. We were moving around, talking, exploring, and several people left, commenting, I heard later, they wanted to just have the information not participate in an activity.

The session where this participatory type learning really benefited the attendees was the session about Edcamps. Kristen Swanson (an Edcamp Founder) designed a session that gave the Edcamp experience. We circled up chairs, suggested topics and then moved around the room so we could see what an Edcamp was like. She could have just as easily lectured for a hour on the model and how its been done. Rather, she gave everyone an experience they talked about for the rest of the conference and (I would bet) probably beyond.

It’s no wonder we need a major redesign in the way we do school. Many educators are still comfortable with the idea they rather be talked at than talked with. If they like the lecture style, surely kids do too. We have to think about the way we offer sessions at conferences like ASCD. Participants need to be moving, thinking, talking to each other. I would like to see in session proposals how the session will be interactive and how the presenter will do follow-up with the participants. We have to think differently about content delivery, not just for students, but teachers as well.

The other take away was conferences, ASCD included, need to better design the layout of rooms. 

Many of the rooms are set up for the convenience of the convention space where the conference is. They are lecture style, chairs in rows, sometimes impossible to move (and if you do move them, you best get them back in their neat and tidy rows.) These rooms are easy to set up and take down. 

Conferences need to push back and offer spaces that are more flexible and allow for movement. Imagine walking into a room to present a session at a national conference and there where chairs in the corner that allowed you to design your space. Or chairs on wheels that made it easy for small groups to form. 

If we want to encourage more participatory type sessions, we have to have flexible spaces that allow for more of this. Again, its all about thinking differently about how we do sessions and how we design spaces.

What do you think? If you've been to a great conference session recently, what made it great? Have you seen any spaces at conferences that were flexible? What did they include? Leave your comments below.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Things That Have Me Thinking-March 12

A while back a friend of mine, Patrick Larkin, was a high school principal. (He has since moved up in the world to Asst. Superintendent ) He was regularly blogging for his staff and at the end of his weekly posts of updates, things to remember and such he had a list of things that had him thinking. It might have been a video,  blog post, article, something, that had piqued his interest and he wanted to share.

It was such a great idea, I decided to steal borrow the idea. I've been meaning to do it for a while now but today is the day I will start. My goal is to write about and share a few things each week that have me pondering, or are pushing the boundaries of my thinking. These items, hopefully, will come from a variety of places and people and cover a variety of topics.

The Problems With Twitter from Tony Sinanis- In this post Tony lays out several of the problems he sees with Twitter. These include tendency to group think, self-promotion, and the fact that many connected educators, he feels, push Twitter on others. His points are strong. But I am reflecting on all the points and feeling like maybe what he points out as problems, are really blessings to some. As George says in the comments, group think doesn’t have to be bad. For those in isolation, it can be exactly what they need. And for “pushing Twitter” those that use that medium, time and time again, say, signing up and using it was one of the best professional decisions they made. For me, it comes down to the approach. An educator has to see the value before they will take the leap. The medium itself isn’t bad or has problems. But the approach may need work. This was a great piece that definitely has me thinking.

Jeff Gordon Test Drive Take 2-Ok so not your typical educational video but hear me out. In this series of videos (the first you can see here) NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon takes an unsuspecting person out for a pretty sweet ride. The catch is they don’t know it’s Jeff Gordon. After the first video one person in particular went to great lengths to show how it was fake. And in the second video Jeff got him back. So why does this have me thinking? I like the critical analysis here. Kids could do their own on the first and the second and talk about how viral marketing or even the physics behind the moves works. Something different to tackle typical subjects in a new and exciting way.

The Maker Movement-Just in the last 6-12 months there has been a movement towards MakerED. This is the idea that kids can be problem solvers and learn valuable skills while making somthing. And since the technology, specifically 3-D printers have come way down in price more and more educators are embracing this movement. I was asked recently everything I knew about the Maker Movement and had a great conversation about how it could look in the regular classroom. Typically these spaces are held afterschool or are club based. So to get them mainstream and in the General Ed classroom is a great leap forward. Check out the MarkerED Blog that has lots of resources and links to what others are doing. And for your reading pleasure check out the book Invent To Learn which lays out the case for Maker and how you can do it in your classroom. Why does this have me thinking? So much potential to work in so many different ways in the learning of kids. Problem solving, programing, authentic tasks, there are some really cool things that could happen in a Maker Space.

So what has you thinking? Leave me a note down below.

Be awesome today!