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?