SpEdcampNJ

As you may know, my involvement with Twitter has led me to find a renewed passion about teaching, leading, engagement of students and teachers, and… the list goes on and on.  (See my article, My Digital Transformation.) As a member of the NJASCD Executive Board and Technology Committee co-chair, I have also had the opportunity to meet and work in a group of incredibly dedicated educators; new, veteran, techie and not.  Each of these individuals have added to the colors on my palette of life experiences that help me be a better me.  A better me in the classroom, in my work, and in my relationships both personal and professional.

I started my amazing journey after I completed my work at Rutgers University Graduate School of Education in 2011 and felt it was time for me to leap into the world of educational leadership.  Along my journey of enlightenment through NJASCD,  I was introduced to board members who were active in a professional trend called EdCampNJ.   I don’t know every member of EdCampNJ, but those with whom I have been fortunate enough to meet and learn from have taught me that the time for personalized learning for students must be translated into personalized learning for teachers, too.  Just as students who sit in our classes everyday have personal tastes in topics and styles of learning, so too do the teachers with whom we also work every day.  The Edcamp process honors, celebrates, and supports the individualized learning of teachers in the very same way we work to honor our students’ personalized learning needs.

So… what exactly is this Edcamp idea?  What could possibly make it such a ground breaking idea?  PD has been around for… a very long time.  What could possibly have changed that it is creating such a stir in the PD circles around the world? (Yes… really… around the world!)

In this month’s Principal Magazine, Meredith Barnett does what I wish I’d thought to do. Meredith has written a wonderful article presenting the Edcamp idea to those many principals who do not know about or who have ever heard of Edcamp before. (I’ve attached the PDF of Meredith’s article here.)   The Edcamp model is fairly well known in the South Jersey/Philly area and the North Jersey/New Brunswick area.  But Central Jersey has yet to get the news: Edcamps are the wave of the future.

As I work to develop a team of teachers who are willing to become part of my leadership team for this annual SpEdcampNJ project, I am frequently asked, “What is Edcamp?”  I am frequently dismayed by the responses I get when I explain that these are workshops that take place on a Saturday. “Saturday?  Who would go to a workshop on a Saturday?  You should consider having it during the week when teachers can be released from their classrooms.  You’d get a much better turnout…”  The thing is that Edcamps have FABULOUS turnouts.  Imagine the energy created  when 300-400 teachers from around the area, sometimes from around the state and neighboring states as well, come together to share ideas… of all things… on a Saturday!  (When I was asked, ‘who would go to a workshop on a Saturday’, I answered, ‘I guess that teachers dedicated to improving their craft and student outcomes come on Saturdays….’  The look on the teachers’ faces when they processed my answer… (‘right… dedicated teachers…I guess you don’t really want everybody  to come… just those who really want to be there…’)  was priceless.

The fact is that not everyone belongs at an Edcamp.  Edcamps are for people who truly want to expand their understandings on things they may have never considered and feel it is important enough to take time away from their personal lives to do so.  The topics and discussions are participant driven and the energy and conversations among like minded individuals is, for me, a priceless experience.  I’ve attached a video of one of the workshops created, designed, and developed completely through a Voxer chat group among six people we’ve never even met face-to-face about bringing music into the classroom.  (The discussion had been framed out with enough room for spontaneous participation from the group.) We had a blast putting it together and the 20+ participants had a blast too!

To be fair, EdCamps happen all the time around the US and are popping up around the globe.  This is a link to the EdCamp Foundation site where more information about the wonderful work being accomplished can be found.

I’ve been able to attend EdcampLeadership in Philly during the summer 2014 and EdcampNJ 2013 & 2014.  I found them to be so inspiring and uplifting that I’ve decided to put start SpEdcampNJ 2015.  I am currently looking for a central Jersey location where my team and I can host special education professionals from around the state to share their energies and practices that will inspire us, bring fun learning to our classroom and raise achievement in our special education classes along the way.  I will keep you posted as we move along our newest journey toward bringing SpEdcampNJ 2015 to fruition.  Stay tuned!

Are gamers perceived as braver teachers?

Some may say that my understanding (or lack thereof) of video games is a generational thing.  No, I’m not a 35 year old gamer who thinks he is the conquerer of the Armageddon of knowledge and inspiration.  I’ve been to a few rodeos in my day and as I’m prone to say to those who doubt my perspective, “I’ve learned to… sip…brandy…”.  Some things really do take time to develop. Using my time to beat a game seems pointless to me.  It seems even more pointless because I don’t see the transfer of focus required of gaming making my students more focused and goal oriented.  But it does beg the question:  Does gaming make for braver teachers?

OK- clearly I’m biased.  My frustration with gaming is this:  as a high school math teacher, I am presented with classrooms of students who need to be told exactly what to do next.  Now this may be an occurrence that is only happening within my own small realm, but I suspect not.  What does this have to do with gaming? When I watch the diligence with which my students pursue success within a game (the research, the collaboration between them, the undefinable self-driven effort they dedicate to beating a game), I wonder where all that energy for learning goes once they hit the classroom.  Why can they muster hours and hours of focus, day after day, to just beating a game? Clearly the answer is to bring gaming into the classroom; #gamification.  This, of course, makes perfect sense because who doesn’t like to do things that are fun?

Again, don’t misunderstand me.  I understand that gaming is fun.  I understand the social side of it.  I really do.  I promise. But as a teacher, as an aspiring administrator, I can’t help but feel immense frustration that as educators, we don’t absolutely embrace this idea of using gaming to provide a platform for exploration within our classrooms.  Many of us continue to take our classes through the same old teacher led drudgery that’s been around since…. I was a kid.  So the question I’ve been asking myself is, Why are some teachers brave?

I have a sense of even greater frustration when I see new teachers who can’t muster the bravery to really tackle this new pedagogy.  Perhaps I’ve always had this innovator streak in me.  My mother could never understand how or why I was always willing to propose a better way to do something.  I have always had the inquisitor gene.  Can we do this better? Is there a tweak that will make this idea pop?  As I wrote in my previous post, given the time, I was able to embrace the brisk and engaging world of Twitter.  Twitter has great classroom applications.  For example, using Twitter to conduct a formative assessment or online discussion.  Or sending reminders or posting a video on your favorite polynomial video. (Sorry… it’s the math in me… 🙂

Perhaps its because being ‘brave’, being willing to bring a new idea to the table requires the disruptor personality factor.  (I can assure you that my parents understood that oh too well!)  More often than not, I was surrounded by non-disruptors.  Same old, same old was fine and why do we need to find a new or better way that takes me away from the same old, same old…

Twitter changed that.  Twitter connects me with other disruptors and encourages me to be brave; it keeps me from giving up when I feel unheard.  Twitter keeps me inspired and makes me look for ways to accomplish things, all sorts of things.  It even connects me to others who think that Minecraft has a place in the math and physics classrooms.  Really, How Cool Is That?

Edmodo and the PaRCC Assessments

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been taking some online Educational Technology classes.  I’ve learned alot about things I didn’t know, which is usually something I really enjoy.  But the history of online learning?  (Yawn…)  Not so cool.

But I did attend a workshop yesterday at the FEA Conference Center in Monroe Township, NJ.  It was sponsored by NJASCD and given by a great guy name Billy Krakower.  Great guy!  Billy teaches 4th grade and special education.  Gotta love a guy who teaches special education… 🙂  Anyway,  Billy’s program demonstrated how he is using the site Edmodo to teach his 4th graders, who have pretty tiny hands, how to use the computer keyboard so they can get ready to take the PaRCC assessments. ( How Cool Is That?) As you may know, they are on computers and navigating the keyboard is a test relevant skill to demonstrating their knowledge.

I’ve attached his presentation to this posting so you can can take a look at it.  I think it has a great deal to teach us about using free (!) online classroom management tools that can ultimately take us to an almost paperless environment.  Take a look at it and if you have any questions, let me know.

http://mrkscorner.com/presentations/parcc-tech-tools-feb-4-2014/