Learners Teaching Learners: Derek Oldfield
Learners Teaching Learners: Derek Oldfield

The trouble with being a connected educator

by on Apr.12, 2014, under Personal

Tom Whitby @tomwhitby has wrote many times:

“Connected educators are the worst advocates for becoming connected.  Too often they are so enthusiastic at how, as well as how much they are learning through being connected, that they tend to overwhelm the uninitiated, inexperienced, and unconnected educator with a deluge of information that both intimidates and literally scares them.”  At the same time, sharing what you’ve learned through your experiences is what connected educators tell you to do in order to expose the non-connected to the connected world.  Too often I find myself walking on egg shells avoiding offending anyone.  The experience of learning and trying to grow connected educators who engage in sharing, learning, and reflecting just becomes a sour one.

I’m not an administrator in a position where modeling to staff is a critical role.  Leaders of school staff must model these new learning behaviors to develop a culture of growth within their buildings.  What then do teachers do who teach in a predominately un-connected school system where educators are patiently awaiting the next professional development opportunity to learn something new?  How do teachers like me initiate sustainable change in their school buildings?

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Edcamp Parkersburg 2014 Summary

by on Apr.06, 2014, under Classroom, Parents, Personal

On April 5, 2014 educators from the area came together at Blennerhassett Middle School for West Virginia’s first Edcamp.  Edcamp Parkersburg included educators from Wirt, Jackson, and Wood counties.  Leanna Prater, a TIS from Lexington, KY also joined us.  Leanna is a PHS alumni and heard about Edcamp Parkersburg from participating on #wvedchat Thursday nights on Twitter.  Robert John Meehan once said “Our most valuable resource is each other.  Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.”  That quote became the theme of our Edcamp.  

The morning of Edcamp begins by creating the session board.  At this time, all participants get a chance to suggest topics they’d like to learn more about, propose topics of discussion, or schedule a session they’d like to facilitate.  At 9:00 the participants scattered to the session of their choosing.  The first hour included topics like student motivation and using Twitter to build a professional learning network.  The 50 minute session flew by and immediately you could see participants extending the conversation to the hallways between sessions.  I overheard one of the principals in attendance say “Now this is real learning.”

Garnet Hillman, a Spanish teacher from Illinois and moderator of the weekly #sblchat (standards based learning chat) on Twitter, joined Edcamp Parkersburg via Google Hangout and shared her standards based grading experience with about 20 participants.  How incredible it was for Garnet to join us to help expose local educators to this alternative form of communicating student learning.  Several educators were charged to reflect on their own grading practices.  Garnet concluded by encouraging us to support each other as we continue exploring SBG.  She also invited the participants to use #sblchat on Twitter as a resource as there are many experts sharing their experience daily.


After lunch educators returned for three more Edcamp sessions of their choosing.  The afternoon sessions included topics like flipping the classroom, Google docs in the classroom, National Board & SAS curriculum integration, and classroom management just to name a few.  Sessions are very discussion-based and everyone is encouraged to provide their input.  “The group is smarter than the individual” is often cited at Edcamps because emphasis is placed on sharing the experiences of all in order for all to move forward.  Edcamp Parkersburg was about all participants improving their practice, engaging in conversations they’ve never had time to engage in before, and supporting each other in the journey.  Throughout the day, it was as if a community was being created.  That sentiment was verified at the smackdown.  The smackdown is a common event at many other Edcamps where all participants are given the opportunity to provide verbal testimony of their experience that day.  During our smackdown Tim Murray, assistant principal at Wirt County High School, shared how his basketball players were playing in a tournament that day.  One of his players texted him earlier that day to ask if he would be present for the game.  He responded with “No, I have to attend some professional development today and can’t make it.”  His player responded with “have fun” to which Coach Murray returned “It’s usually not fun.”  Tim went on to explain how Edcamp Parkersburg far exceeded his expectations and he wanted to pursue having an Edcamp with his school.  Kevin Campbell, principal at Hamilton Middle School, echoed Tim’s experience and shared how he always expects at least one aha! moment.  He explained that in the morning sessions alone, he had at least 4 of those moments.  The following are some more quotes from the smackdown, I feel they speak for themselves:

  • I willingly got out of bed at 6:30 on a Saturday on spring break and came to work and I’m incredibly happy about it.  I loved it.

  • I want this in my school now.

  • My big aha! is that we did this so well with so few.  Just imagine the resources in our counties with even more input from others.

  • I learned more through this than sitting through any guest speaker.


The participants were also encouraged to tweet about Edcamp Parkersburg using #edcamppkb and those tweets were collated at https://storify.com/Mr_Oldfield/edcamppkb-tweets.  We encourage educators to join in similar conversations weekly on Thursday’s at 7:30 using #wvedchat on Twitter.  Several local educators, others in our state, and some from across the country are reflecting, sharing, and learning each week from conversations just like the ones at Edcamp.  Look out for the 2nd Edcamp in our area coming up Fall 2014.


Derek Oldfield


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It’s Imperative: Connect

by on Mar.31, 2014, under Personal

#Colchat, Colorado’s weekly edchat that occurs on Twitter on Monday nights served as the reminder and encouragement that I needed to write this post.  I was previously convinced of this, but I was admittedly discouraged.  It is of utmost importance for all educators to engage in the conversations going on among connected educators via social media.  One person provided me this analogy recently.  He said during a triathlon when the athletes complete the swimming section, it’s most common for them to swim in groups, essentially drafting each other.  How much more efficient are those athletes when they can all swim in the wake of one another pushing in the same direction?  When compared to the swimmer who is by him/herself carving out their own current, I would much prefer to swim with the group.  The choice to connect with other educators and engage in the conversations focused on improving their practice and providing students better opportunities to learn is no longer an option.  Those educators who have chosen to join the group and share in the learning have engaged in a transformation completely unknown to non-connected educators.  The conversations have evolved so far beyond those conversations happening in classrooms, teacher-lounges, and schools that non-connected educators struggle to see the need to develop a PLN and engage in learning through social media.  Tom Whitby describes connecting to stepping on a bullet train headed to improved practice, reflection, and sharing the great things happening in innovative schools.  While not connecting is like waiting at the train station for a more comfortable train to ride.

One of my colleagues standing beside me in the trenches of my district recently said on Twitter: “I’ve learned more on Twitter than I have in any PD or college education class.”  #Colchat’s first question tonight was “Why is it important for educators to be connected?”  Expand your perspective.  Don’t try to solve problems or improve your practice looking through your own lens.  In fact, don’t seek solutions from someone else looking through their own lens.  The group is smarter than me.  In public education, truly innovative schools and classrooms involve the village.  It certainly does take a village…  Finally, this tweet was part of #colchat tonight: “A teacher not trying to make themselves better in the classroom is not someone I want teaching my kid.”

What drives you to become better?  There are a lot of ways to improve your practice, but when was the last time you were part of a conversation involving people outside our district?  State?  Who pushes you to become better?  Who is the one educator you learn from the most?  Comment below with 3 educators that model attributes you consider important in today’s education landscape.

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Relationships, Relevance, Rigor

by on Mar.23, 2014, under Classroom, Personal

I haven’t wrote in a while.  For some reason, the topic I chose to put down is probably the most common theme I’ve written about this year: Relationships.  Though I’d like to take it two steps further.  I’d like to link relationships to relevance and rigor.

I believe the three must go in that order.  Building relationships with students means discovering their interests, learning about their background, and peeling away at their personalities.  Once these interests, backgrounds, and personalities are discovered, the teacher can begin to personalize instruction to make learning relevant.  Relevance is one of those topics you hear a lot about in college.  ”Make learning meaningful and relevant.  Connect learning to something which they can relate.”  Those sound great, but I wonder how many teachers actually know how to do that?  Or how many teachers actually do it?

In my own reflections recently, I’ve wondered just how much of my own content is relevant to my students.  I’m currently trudging through a unit on rate of change, slope, graphing lines, etc.  This is historically the toughest topic for my students to grasp.  In the past I’ve exhausted methods of instructing these concepts but it always seemed that the assessments would indicate my efforts were to no avail.  I’m sure the 9th grade math teachers are wondering if I even spoke about slope of a line at all.  I’m convinced that these concepts are just too abstract and mean nothing to my students at this time.  I’ve struggled to make these concepts meaningful and relevant to them.  I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into building relationships with my students and I’ve wrote about it a lot in this blog.  For some topics this year, I feel I’ve done a good job of strengthening students understanding by making math relevant and meaningful to them.  The relationships I’ve built with students allow me the possibilities of building those connections.  Whether it’s the student who will probably join his family in the roofing business when he gets older, or the student who dances year round, or the student who enjoys coding and minecraft, trigger those interests as often as possible.  Reinforce their passions and desires from inside your classroom.  Do that and those students will work hard when things become demanding and difficult.

I have a had a few college students in my classroom this year for observation hours.  One such college student had an encounter in which he and another student of mine chatted quietly about college basketball during my instruction.  After the period ended, the college student came to me to apologize for distracting that particular student during my instruction.  I quickly explained to him that those are the opportunities that teachers need to capitalize on more often.  Because tomorrow, if the college student were to ask my student to engage in something of rigor, that student is more likely to work hard because of the time you took to talk with him about his interests.  Students don’t naturally engage in rigor.  It’s getting more and more unnatural for students to engage in demanding tasks.  Perhaps an emphasis in building relationships and making learning relevant will help our students engage in more rigorous learning activities.

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Why start an Edcamp? Voice & Choice

by on Mar.09, 2014, under Personal

I first heard about an Edcamp several months ago now.  I read a reflection someone had shared on Twitter of their first experience at an Edcamp.  They compared it to the professional development they had always attended prior to Edcamp.  I found it interesting because my experiences with regular professional development were similar to the writer’s.  I’m not writing to complain about typical professional development, however.  In fact, one of the reasons for starting an Edcamp in my area was to expose others to an alternate form of professional development that was attendee-centered, not presenter-centered.  There’s certainly a place for presenter-centered professional development and I’m not advocating it’s extinction at all.  I hope that Edcamp simply provides educators a day of refreshing change.

I knew there was value in providing educators a voice and choice.  I hope that others see Edcamp as an opportunity to demonstrate their professionalism and share the awesome things going on in their classrooms and schools.  I know educators don’t get that opportunity nearly enough.  Edcamp makes a strong attempt to open up dialogue that has been missing in traditional professional development.  What is created is an environment that values the input of all attendees.  I felt that investing in Edcamp was worth it because I had something valuable to share and I knew I couldn’t be the only one.  I’ve left PD sessions before where mumbling and grumbling were the only conversations that occurred.  I knew things could be done differently.  With a voice, educators can leave Edcamp empowered, but can also leave with connections that will improve their practice.  Kristen Swanson once told me, “don’t ever say you’re just an eighth grade math teacher” but because I’m not in a position that makes decisions about professional development and educator growth, no one has ever asked me if I had anything to share.

I also knew Edcamp would offer educators choice.  Professional development is currently judged by hours of seat time.  Only a few educators get an opportunity for choice.  Edcamp’s philosophy is dominated by educator choice.  That’s why the session board isn’t created until the day of Edcamp.  The board is created by all the attendees according to their choice.  It’s frightening arriving at Edcamp and looking at a blank session board.  It’s also empowering knowing that I have an opportunity to not only facilitate a session of my own, but suggest sessions about topics of which I’d like to learn.

Finally, like many other educators, I’m sick of the media deciding what to write about teachers.  I’m sick of being judged by a single test score.  I want my professionalism back.  I’ve attended an Edcamp and I was amazed at the initiative by 200 educators to take back their professionalism.  Every one in attendance was using their own time to invest in their own growth and development.  There was no reward offered for attending.  Motivation to attend Edcamp was completely intrinsic.  No longer should anyone else be in charge or dictate my own growth and development.  I hope others will feel the same.  Given the right environment, educators can engage in discussions centered around the students and the schools.  I think more educators need reminded that they are professionals capable of investing in conversations and determining learning sessions that would benefit them.  I intend to engage educators in discussions that don’t occur inside our school buildings.

Are you ready for Edcamp?  I’ve made a commitment to getting this off the ground, but there’s a chance this area isn’t ready for Edcamp.

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The smartest person in the room is the room

by on Mar.05, 2014, under Personal

Last night at 9:00EST several members of my PLN were chatting in #sblchat or #1to1techat.  I jumped into the #1to1techat because the topic began to yield responses that enticed me to engage.  The topic was connected educators.  I’ll share some of the tweets that encouraged me to respond

#1to1techat A2: building a PLN is the best way to get better. You will see the benefits, and most importantly, your students will grow

A2: Identify a brilliant school or exemplary district. Follow the chain of leadership up. You will find a connected leader. #1to1techat

Josh Johnson @JoJohnso115

A2 role of a teacher has changed/changes dramatically, the only way to keep up is be connected to what is doing on education #1to1techat

Liz Paushter @epaush

A2: A leader must always be learning #1to1techat

I can’t put into words the changes that have occurred in my classroom and in my professional life as a result of becoming connected to awesome and innovative educators like these folks.  Just in the last couple months, I’ve organized WV’s first Edcamp and started #wvedchat to begin initiating the necessary changes and conversations that must happen to improve learning experiences for all of our students.  These opportunities aren’t a result of my own doing, however.  It’s about the room.  I read a story of a guy who got called for an interview to a principal’s position at a prestigious high school.  The guy showed up for his interview, introduced himself and began receiving the questions from the interview committee.  At one point during the interview, he excused himself but pulled out his phone for a few seconds.  He then laid it down in front of him and continued with his responses.  After a couple minutes his phone began buzzing.  He looked at it, picked it up, and held it out for the committee to see.  Shocked and dumbfounded, the interview committee must have wondered just what text message could be so important that this man had to share it with everyone immediately.  To their surprise, the man was showing them a resource that was shared by a member of his PLN through Twitter.  The resource was about engaging parents of struggling students.  The question he had attempted to answer a few minutes prior to this was one that reminded him of an expert in that area and he knew if he could just communicate his need via Twitter, that expert, or others, would chime in and freely share the resources and successes they had implemented in their schools.  The interviewee went on to share how a strong PLN had influenced him.  He admitted that he may not always have the answers.  But he said, “If you hire me, know this, you’re not just hiring me, you’re hiring all these smart and innovative educators that influence me 24/7.”  The man got the job.

See, the smartest person in the room is the room.  For so many, though, they’re still trying to lead their classrooms and their schools relying on their own merits.  Reading scholarly books is beneficial and there’s certainly a place for that in education.  But one simply can not replace the conversations.  I use Twitter because it’s 24/7 support from colleagues on the front lines engaging in conversations about how they can improve and adapt to better meet the needs of their students.  My growth has skyrocketed since actively engaging other educators and learning what goes on outside of my school and district walls.  I’ve never even dreamt that I was the smartest person in the room, but Twitter certainly confirmed it.  The smartest person in the room is the room itself.  What’s keeping you from engaging the support of the room?

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Edcamp Columbus Reflection: Julie

by on Mar.02, 2014, under Personal

Well….here goes nothing.  I’m a first-time guest blogger tonight, so this may be rough but ultra important to put into words. For any readers who do not know me, I am Derek’s wife and also a middle school Reading teacher.  It has now been a little over 24 hours since Edcamp Comumbus ended, and Derek and I are still thinking of new ideas and stories to share from our experience.  I was excited about attending Edcamp, but I honestly was going for the experience to aid Derek and I in holding the April 5th Parkersburg Edcamp.  I didn’t know what to expect from the day other than that.  Oh…..was I in for a shock or what!?

When we arrived at Clark Hall, I was immediately astonished by the absolute beauty and comfort in that building.  What a wonderful school…and we didn’t even see the half of it!  Don’t get me wrong, I love where we live/work, but I immediately texted my parents to tell them we would be moving to Gahanna, OH soon if I had a choice! :)  As the day went on, I found even more reasons to fall in love with the area, and the people became  number 1 on that list!  Edcamp began with everyone gathering in a commons area.  It was immediately apparent that the attendees were honestly excited to be there, even if we were a group of teachers working on a Saturday at 8:00 AM.  As Toby (one of the Edcamp Columbus coordinators) introduced himself and the event, I was still in “gather information for our event” mode.  I was guilty of analyzing how people were grouped, how the session board was laid out, how people handled the wifi not working immediately, and where to go next in this overwhelmingly awesome building.  By the time I got settled online, I studied the session board and was so impressed at how smoothly it came together.  The hardest part of the morning so far…..trying to choose which session to attend!  With so many good sessions suggested, it was difficult to pick ONLY 1 to attend per time slot.

Derek and I chose to go to the first session together (mainly because of my introverted, shy nature).  After seeing how relaxed and down to earth everyone was, I got the nerve to attend session 2 without my “other half” to protect me. :)  And…..I SURVIVED.  I’m so glad that we decided to separate as we did, because our dilemma of being able to only be a part of 4 complete sessions was solved.  We could split up and share what we learned in our separate places after the day ended…..and just for the record, we are still sharing!

The four sessions I attended were designing your own school, blended learning strategies, differentiated instruction, and standards based grading.  Two of the sessions were suggested by teachers who stated that they were attempting the topic in their classroom, but they didn’t want to moderate necessarily.  This was a major concern for our upcoming Edcamp Parkersburg, so I was excited to see it actually happen.  After that person stated that they placed the topic on the session board, everyone in the room just started talking about their experience, or lack of experience with the topic at hand.  It was so powerful to see a room full of people (administrators, board office employees, teachers, college students, and technology coordinators) come together and hold a professional, positive conversation.  As I sat in each session, I also followed #edcampcbus on Twitter.  It was so beneficial to be sitting in one room hearing the discussion and also watching comments from other sessions at the same time.  I strongly suggest that you take time to get on Twitter, search #edcampcbus and just scroll through the amazing conversations that were held during the day.  It’s unreal that such rich discussions can be held in person and online simultaneously.  Throughout the day I was able to connect with educators in many ways and one lasting way is through Twitter.  I plan to stay in contact with many of the people I met Saturday, including attending other Edcamps they will be holding, and a possible training on a Learning Management System for my classroom (I could do a whole other post about that experience).  Derek has been trying to stress the importance of continuing to connect and build a PLN to me.  I have taken steps towards both of these, but no where as much as I should.  This weekend changed that for me!  I officially see the immense need and benefit of connecting with other educators in any way possible!  What better way to improve learning for my students, than to talk to other teachers about what they are doing in their classrooms!?   It’s so simple, yet so easy to ignore!

Without going into specifics (and for the fact that I could go on forever about this), I will try to wrap up my reflection on the day.  As Derek mentioned in his post, the day ended with a smackdown with everyone back in the community lounge area.  I had NO IDEA what to expect as this was my very first “smackdown”.  Now, I was still gathering ideas for our Edcamp, but I was way more engaged in “gather info for my students and classroom practices” mode by this point.  If I wasn’t already excited to take ideas back to Parkersburg, the smackdown solidified my excitement!  Listening to various educators explain what they learned and how they wanted to “make a change” in different areas of their classrooms, I was yet again reminded of the raw passion that people still hold for teaching in general!  It is so easy to latch onto negativity and complain about each little thing that you encounter on a daily basis in schools, but this weekend reminded me that positivity and excitement is contagious….and I plan to carry that back to Parkersburg!!

Ok…so, I could say so much more, but must stop.  Sorry for the length of this, but it was truly a wonderful experience that I will never forget. Thank you #edcampcbus and to my hubby for the amazing experience…my students will thank you soon enough! :)


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Edcamp Columbus Reflection: Derek

by on Mar.02, 2014, under Personal, Uncategorized

It’s going to be tough to keep this one short.  Sorry.

My wife, Julie, and I attended our first Edcamp this weekend at Clark Hall, Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio.  Edcamp Columbus was awesome!  It was everything we thought it would be and more.  It began with some wifi issues and I admit, I was fearing my engagement throughout the day would severely decrease as a result of no wifi.  I was looking forward to peeking in on other sessions through #edcampcbus on Twitter.  I also had intended to keep regular posts on Facebook as more of my colleagues back home are active on Facebook, rather than Twitter.  Thankfully, Julie and I were able to get both of our devices logged on successfully.

Clark Hall is an incredible learning space!  I could tell immediately this school was a place I would like to teach.  EdcampCbus decided to put their session board on a Google spreadsheet.  I actually like this idea!  It makes it so much easier to share the session board with others that were unable to attend.  It also makes it easy to refer back to the board while in the middle of a session.  I found myself pulling out my phone often just to see if anything new had been added to the board, or if I was trying to decide what session to attend next.  Without the Google spreadsheet, I would have been making trips back and forth to the session board all day.

Though I did want to facilitate a discussion myself, I didn’t add anything to the board because each hour had something I was really excited to see.  Julie and I are hosting our own Edcamp in Parkersburg, WV on April 5 so we really wanted to absorb as much of the experience from Columbus as possible.  It was their 4th Edcamp so we were sitting among several veteran Edcampers.  The first session I attended was titled “Design your own school”.  The facilitator began the discussion by introducing himself.  @mrmacraild isn’t an administrator and he didn’t appear to be starting his own school, but the discussion was one that was extremely necessary and led to many points of view being shared.  I shared on Facebook that the discussion included at least 1 attendee from almost every corner of public education.  Administrators and teachers of all kinds engaged in a discussion about designing schools in such a way that would produce the best possible thinkers.  One of my favorite parts of the discussion was when teachers began discussing ways to allow students to take control of their own learning.  A high school chemistry teacher shared that he may have spoke a total of 5 minutes in his classes Friday.  The theme was get out of the way and allow our students to do the sharing, the presenting, the teaching, and the doing.

Session one went so well for me that for session two I attended a session titled “Redesigning the school day: Successes and lessons learned.”  This session was created by a teacher who appeared to be in his mid-20s.  He introduced himself and stated that he didn’t really have anything to share, he just suggested the topic in hopes that he could learn some innovative ideas that were being used in other schools.  His school was attempting to carve out more time for teachers to collaborate and learn from one another but adjusting the schedule of the day was becoming difficult.  The discussion immediately took off with an attendee sharing research that suggests students retain new information much better when that information can be revisited within 3 hours of it’s initial activation.  We all began brainstorming ways for students to engage in new information in a math class, for example, but then be able to revisit that topic/concept before the school day ended.  I wonder, how effective could that be?  During this session I met some awesome young educators from Hilliard City Schools in Franklin County, Ohio.  They shared for several minutes how their school had carved out time to allow teachers to observe each other and share resources and best practices.  As I sat listening, it appeared that what was going on in their school daily was the type of learning I could only engage in during Twitter chats of an evening.  It was so neat to hear them talk passionately about how their school learns from each other, respects one another’s practices, reflects honestly about what works and what doesn’t work.  Never did they mention test scores, data, or assessments, though I’m sure those methods are used at their school.  I spoke up and asked them to share a bit about the culture at their school and how they were able to sustain such an innovative learning environment for their teachers.  Their response was not surprising to me.  It all starts with an administrator who modeled all those behaviors prior to asking the staff to engage in them.  Even when other educators spoke up, it seemed they all had administrators who were willing to lead their staff into these reforms because they were already connecting to other great administrators outside their school and district, they were already reflecting on their own practice, they were already implementing tools and resources that were proven in other places.  It seemed easy for these educators to follow a lead like that.  As I was walking out of this session, the educators from Hilliard stopped me to encourage me to continue being the change in my school and my district.  They were excited to hear of the opportunities I had been given in #wvedchat and Edcamp Parkersburg.  They asked if I had my administration certificate and encouraged me to invest into gaining that certificate.  Before we left, they invited me to join them on Tuesday nights for their district’s chat on Twitter.  Before Julie and I met in the common area, an administrator from a small, rural k-6 elementary school in Ohio introduced herself to me and encouraged me just as the Hilliard folks did.  These couple experiences were worth the hotel stay and travel to Edcamp Columbus.  Julie and I came because of the conversations and that was affirmed during those first two sessions.  It was so encouraging meeting other educators that were passionate about their students and their schools.

We walked into the restaurant for lunch and were waved over to a nearby table by what would have been a total stranger prior to Edcamp.  Our new friend, Ryan Macraild invited us over to his spot and we ended up sitting with two tech integrators from school districts nearby.  Even lunch involved conversations that have never occurred in our schools.  We sat at the same table with Bobby Dodd, principal at New Lexington High School.  Bobby was there with a few teachers from his school.  If I didn’t recognize him from Twitter, I wouldn’t have been able to tell who was the principal and who were the teachers.  Edcamp really levels the playing field and removes all titles.  Everyone present is there to engage in the same quality learning experiences to transform their classrooms and schools.

Edcamp Columbus ended with a “Smackdown”.  The smackdown was awesome because it allowed any participant the chance to share a brief statement or two about how they were impacted as a result of coming to Edcamp.  You got to hear all the innovative ideas and changes that educators were going to implement as a result of the day.  Before we left, we were able to connect with some educators from Shelby City Schools who want to bring a van-load to our Edcamp on April 5.

*Edit:  I intentionally did not write about all 4 of the sessions I attended.  That was an effort to keep the post shorter.  However, my final session was led by @mrwheeler and it was extremely enlightening for me.  Sean spoke mostly about he gets his students to solve real problems.  He’s an ELA teacher, but he spoke about attending city council meetings and asking them to share some the city’s problems.  His thought was a simple one: why aren’t we using public schools to solve more problems?  In fact, one of the attendees said “public schools should be a think-tank for communities.  I began to think of all the problems I, a math teacher, ask my students to solve throughout the school year.  Are any of them related to our community in any way?  Will any of the problems my students solve have a lasting impact?  Sean also got the attendees thinking about WHO our students submit their work to.  One statement he made impacted me: “tell a 3rd grader they’re going to be on Youtube and see what happens.”  He’s absolutely right!  My students aren’t currently sharing anything globally.  In fact, I’m not sure I could classify my students as risk-takers, not afraid to fail, learners, and doers.  I left that session wondering, if more teachers in my building, starting with me, started providing students with real problems, started connecting them to their community, started giving them an audience, started giving them a voice… What type of students would we be sending to the high school?

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Curiosities, Passions, Interests

by on Feb.25, 2014, under Classroom, Parents, Personal

Are schools developing students that are taking control of their own learning?  What can be done to put students in the drivers seat when it comes to learning?  What barriers stand in the way of developing self-directed learners?

I recently challenged my homebase to spend one class period per week investing in something they were curious about, something they were interested in, something they were passionate about.  The original idea was based on Google’s 20% rule.  Google received a lot of press when it released it’s 20 time project.  Google effectively allowed employees to spend one day per week to work on a side project they were interested in creating.  As a result, Gmail, Google News, Google Talk and other Google products were created from the 20 time project.  I spoke to my students at length about what I hoped would come of our own little project.  Given some free time to discover, research, and invest in curiosities, I was hopeful that students would have something to show after a few weeks.  What I found was disturbing.  My students don’t have any passions, they aren’t curious about anything, and if given the time to invest in something of their choosing, the only thing they can think of is the sport they are currently playing.

Do these results surprise you?  If not, why are schools suffocating student passions, curiosities, and interests?  How can schooling change to support student passions, curiosities, and interests?

This next paragraph is for me as much as it’s for you.

I think this phenomena is related to the amount of low-quality activities we engage our students in throughout the course of the school year.  The pressures to meet the demands of the curriculum force teachers to race through and cover far too many concepts, providing low-quality easy to measure activities that don’t challenge students to think critically or deeply.  In fact, schools provide so many supports and modifications to keep students from failing, we practically forge a path for our students to get an A all the time.

Sorry, I guess I just needed to put my spoon away for a while.  I’m afraid the majority of our students are far underprepared for the competitive world they’re entering.

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Blended Learning in Action

by on Feb.07, 2014, under Classroom, Parents

I’ve wrote before about how my class incorporates a blend of instruction and assessments via traditional classroom and online.  This is one of the best videos I’ve seen about blended learning and what I’m trying to do with my class.  Blending my classroom offers a variety of advantages.  My favorite part of blended learning is the collaboration that my students engage in during class.  I think the game-based nature of Khan Academy helps establish the environment where every student wants to see every other student “beat” their level.  If a student is struggling in a particular concept or skill, students automatically jump in to offer assistance when needed.  We’ve had a lot of discussion about the difference in helping and telling.  Students don’t realize it but when teaching something to another student, they end up reinforcing those strategies and algorithms in their own head.  In addition to blending the class, I also place an emphasis on making my classroom student-led.  My students do most of the talking in class.  They do most of the assessing, most of the problem-solving, and most of the helping.  It may sound like I do nothing in class, but there is plenty left for me to do.  See my grading post or my post about Khan Academy in my classroom.  Most of my job consists of determining the pace of instruction, analyzing data, providing feedback on assessments, being a facilitator, and providing encouragement (my favorite part).

I wanted to include some pictures that represent the online component of the computer-lab setting that my classroom takes on at least 2 days a week.































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