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Posts Tagged ‘Professional Development’

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I showed up to EdCampRI with the excitement and nerves of someone going on a first date.  This is usually how I approach new situations, as I don’t know what to expect.  Like any good teacher, I did my homework prior to arriving.  I found that Ed Camps are supposed to be grassroots forums where educators can freely discuss anything with one another.  No one single person is supposed to be in charge and the agenda is driven by the interest of those in attendance.  These events are frequently referred to as un-conferences because unlike traditional conferences, no one is really a lead presenter; dialogue is supposed to be organic and Socratic.  Multiple rooms are set up with laptops, projectors and speakers so anyone who is working on a cool project or has information of interest to the group can freely share it to the benefit of everyone.  Mediocre educators don’t wake up early on a Saturday morning to attend an all day affair on improving their practice to lead to better student learning so I new I would surrounded by an extraordinary crowd.  Teachers from CT and MA hopped borders to flock to the Ocean State in pursuit of educational excellence as well.

Besides sounding like a genuinely beneficial experience, I was sold on EdCampRI by the fact that this was a free event with breakfast, lunch and a T-shirt provided.  You mean I get to learn, network, and eat for free?!? God Bless America.  To stick with the first date analogy, the awkwardness of those initial early morning conversations is palpable much like those first exchanges of dialogue sitting with a suitor whose character and interests are yet unknown.  Everyone makes small talk and asks the same questions like “Where to you teach?”.  I believe in punctuatlity so I arrived at Rhode Island College where the EdCamp was taking place at 7:45 even though registration didn’t start until 8am.  Interestingly enough, the first person whom I told I worked in Putnam, CT said, “Isn’t that the district that just got covered in the New York Times.”  I said, “Yes! My rockstar colleague Tom couldn’t make it today, but we sure are doing some great things in the quiet corner of CT.”  The ice was officially broken. Check out the NYTimes article here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/in-flipped-classrooms-a-method-for-mastery/?_r=0

EdCampRI started with an intro and overview of what the day was all about.  We were told that a registration wall would be set up that showed 3 times for sessions in rows and 10 rooms in columns where people could present.  If anyone had an interest in a particular topic, they were to put what they wanted to talk or learn about on a slip of paper along with their name and post in on the wall in an open time and room slot.  There seemed to be some hesitancy, and I’m not exactly the shy type, so with my sleeves already rolled up, I dove right in.  I took a few quick strides to the board and taped up a slip in the second session row that said “All things flipped learning @Mister_Germain”

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Teachers peruse the session board at EdCampRI 2013 to set and sign up for learning opportunities.

I decided to attend “Advanced Google Apps with James Pearse” as my first morning session.  Contrary to what I thought EdCamp was supposed to be about, Mr. Pearse, assertively took control of the room by hooking up his laptop to the projector and immediately beginning a presentation that you could tell he had given multiple times before.  No one seemed to care too much at first because he mentioned how he had just come from the MassCue Conference at Gillette Stadium this week where his presentation was packed out and he was clearly knowledgeable about this topic.  However, after about ten minutes of discussing how to make a google document, he either 1) Realized that everyone’s eyes were glazed over or 2) Remembered he titled the session ADVANCED Google Apps and decided to ramp things up.

One of the first things that struck my attention was his mention of setting up folders for all students through google drive.  That way, teachers could avoid the overwhelming email notifications and mess of documents in their own drive every day.  I literally had this same conversation the day before and he showed a couple good strategies for setting up a folder system.  More information can be found at mrpearse.com.  Actually, what really struck my attention was when Magister Revkin stepped in to show a super quick way to do this through Google Scripts.  He is a Latin teacher who has posted tons of great tech resources on his blog at http://eghstechtips.blogspot.com/p/links.html.  The crowd was all pretty excited to see him take over for a bit because he showed us all some awesome things that could be accomplished with Google Scripts like using Doctopus, Formmule, Autocrat, and Flubaroo.  There were many yells of “Wait…I can’t see…what did you say?” and things of the like during the whole morning session that made following along with the actual conversation a little difficult.  It also didn’t help that there was another little presentation in the same room behind us which was pretty distracting.  Luckily, all in the room were innovative teachers not afraid to experiment, so I am sure we will be able to recreate the awesomeness we saw simply by tinkering on our own.

The best part about this session was following #EdCampRI on twitter.  I was able to find a google doc posted by someone in the session about “Why is PD so bad?” where all the participants were taking note together.  In my own session talking about how awesome Google Drive is, I was able to use a Google Doc to virtually be in two places at once as I followed along the conversation in another room about fixing professional development, an issue that definitely needs serious attention.

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Educators need to leverage the power of twitter to connect with each other and tap countless great possibilities. Don’t feel like you’re stuck on an island in your school. Hit the twitterverse to connect and collaborate with others.

This first session set a dangerous precedent for me as I was the one who called a session on flipped learning which lead everyone to expect a full on presentation from me.  I took the helm to start, but had no intention of droning on for an hour.  Unlike my first session, I decided to use good pedagogical practices by giving a quick pre-assessment.  I asked how many in the room of 30 were flipping their classrooms currently.  About two people raised their hands, giving me a quick glimpse into the experience level and what would be most likely interesting to everyone there.  Still, in one hour we were able to have a great conversation about

  • the philosophy of flipped learning

  • what students do in class

  • how to improve writing skills

  • mastery learning

  • collaboration with staff

  • ensuring learning objectives are met

  • preparing administration to see a different model of education

  • turning the classroom into a game

Myself and one other teacher were able to show some of the cool things we have been working on which prompted a lot of discussion and questions.  This still wasn’t exactly what I was expecting at an EdCamp, but it was closer to the mark than the first session.  In line with my learning from earlier, I opened a google doc I shared with all participants so we could take notes and share links as a group.  This worked like a charm.  One of the things I posted was my current Mission Guide for class https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZQAG1MrNJS-eDOdTRTOAVI-7TFlSxWcwYySzpPliqAg/edit?usp=sharing.  Everyone seemed so interest in the flow and organization of my class (both physical and virtual) and the types of assignments we were doing so we spent some time clicking through to look at some of the higher level Bloom’s tasks my students are able to accomplish.  I think the group got some good ideas on how to scaffold learning through videos by starting with guided viewing notes, but what they appeared to like best was how flipped learning can lead to so much inquiry based learning.  I went over how questions during each level leads to a challenge at the end that is driven by self interest and usually in the form of quick research papers.  This received a lot of positive feedback.

At the end of the session, everyone clapped, which I found particularly nice.  Two groups of teachers came up to me later to say that they were talking in the back during the presentation and could tell I was “an awesome teacher” whose passion and energy “they so appreciated’ which going a step further to say that my students were “beyond lucky.”  While it made me blush, I thought back to the last time someone has told me I was a good teacher….hmm….that hasn’t happened in a long time.  My mind was drawn to the RIDE Technology in Education Conference last month where the National Superintendent of the Year spoke about visiting teacher’s classrooms just to thank you, and I wondered why that isn’t done more often.  In a profession that is so difficult, yet so noble that has such a high burnout rate yet such a high potential to have impact, one would think more love and appreciation would be spread.  But alas, this is not the case.

At lunchtime, I was offered the opportunity to give a pitch for the Level Up with Gamification PD I am doing with Tom Driscoll at the Highlander Institute in Providence on November 14.  I brought the energy with my best video game voice and within 5 minutes, the session was sold out.  Currently, we are in the process of trying to get a bigger room so this link will be open to registration again soon http://www.eventbrite.com/event/8589195515/SRCH

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The thrill of a sold out conference after a shameless pitch!

The last session of the afternoon that I chose to go to was “Bringing EdCafes to the Classroom.”  Two teachers from the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border have worked extremely hard to combine the essence of TED-talks and socratic seminars to a form that works best for their students.  Both of the energetic duo walked an attentive small group through the process of getting students to take ownership for their learning by becoming an expert in a topic and leading a discussion with other classmates.  Multiple students give presentations in different parts of the classroom at the same time, which is how this even mirrors an EdCamp; everyone is free to choose the session they want to sit in on.  We all bounced questions off each other, freely discussed many points of ponderance and left with the attitude that “we can do this.”  Not only is this approach to learning empowering, it is necessary to create independence and 21st Century skills.  No classroom should go without EdCafes.  To find out more, visit the website: http://whatisanedcafe.wordpress.com/.  If you are not interested in re-creating the wheel, consider contacting these teachers to see if they will share their templates and other documents with you as they were kind enough to do with me.

jk18emfje68dbgm2pvzj_reasonably_smallThe day concluded with what is called “The Smackdown” where 30 minutes are reserved for educators to come before the crowd and share their favorite tech companies.  Here is what got shared this year: http://bit.ly/EdCampSmackdown.  While not necessarily linked to the classroom, If This, Then That looked like the big crowd pleaser of the day which I will definitely be using to connect all the apps I use to make my life more streamlined.

All in all, educators left refreshed with the idea that education is changing for the better with the help of other dedicated individuals and aid from revolutionary technology. Rock on EdCampRI.

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