Friday, February 17, 2012

Reflections on #EdCampStL 2012

Wheel of a Handmade Cart found at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
I wrote two posts on my experiences from the first EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection and The Don'ts of Attending EdCampKC. Feel free to read them.

Attending an EdCamp is different than attending a typical conference. When you show up there is an understanding that the day's learning is supposed to be fluid. The biggest barrier to entry is not knowing the people that are in attendance. Strike that, actually going with people you know may be an even bigger barrier!

EdCamps are about sharing and learning together. A big part of your experience should be spent finding people to talk to so that you can create relationships that allow you to learn from others over years instead of hours. I strive to take time to appreciate the people that I have made friendships with online when I finally meet them face to face. If you come with others, don't spend all your time with them. The more people you meet, the better your experience will be.

I was fortunate enough to have my wife Dianna and my eldest daughter Teal also go. We didn't attend the same session because we have different interests and different needs. This is important to recognize. You are there to learn to be a better teacher, identify your interests or your deficits and go for it. Let your friends do the same with theirs.

In retrospect I didn't learn any earth shaking new tools or methods that I can employ immediately so that my students all become elligible for Mensa but I created more opportunities to learn through creating stronger bonds with my online friends. That was well worth the personal day and the 5 1/2 hour one way drive it took to get there.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How About Unconferences for Students?

I am thinking about extending what I have experienced to my students. What about having an unconference for them?

My idea would be to have an evening or a Saturday where students would have the opportunity to come together to share their passions. I realize that a 50 minute time limit would probably be way to daunting for most but the eldest students, so I think we could adopt some of the times used at teachmeets. We could have 7 minute presentations, 2 minute presentations, or others of various lengths. These smaller times would also work much better for an evening (and more accessible for younger students).

I do have questions that need to be worked through:
  1. Could the students sign up ahead of time so that they could be scheduled and have opportunities to practice their presentations? If so, would that go against the spirit of the unconference? 
  2. Would this be a student led only conference or would adults be allowed to present as well? If so, they could fill gaps in the presentation and perhaps have to wait to sign up the night/day of the conference thereby keeping some of the spirit of the unconference.
  3. It seems like it would be easy to plan. I would need to get access to the school and advertise. Am I missing something significant?

Can You Present at a Tech Conference Without the Tech Being Your Main Focus?

 At the Midwest Education Technology Conference I presented a session called Differentiating Instruction Using Basal Readers. Here is a link to my presentation. As you can see it isn't very flashing (heck it isn't even what I would call engaging!) The presentation was made this way on purpose, I didn't want to make my session about tools, examples, or flash.

I think that there is way too much focus on tech tools at technology conferences. If we truly believe that the goal of school is student learning, tools would be ubiquitous (including hardware and software tools). Exposure to these tools are important, but not the most important thing we can share. While we do need these types of sessions, we really need sessions that model how learning is happening in classes with those tools.

I new that my session title would be very noticeable. There was no word in the title that suggested technology or tools. Here is the description of the session:

"Are you required to use a basal reading series in your classroom? Would you like to find ways to integrate technology and help students differentiate their own learning opportunities? Join William as he describes how his students used digital tools such as bogs, Paint, Audacity, iTunes, and iPods in reading class. Learn how to let go of teaching and have your students engage in learning."

The focus of my session was to show how I allow students to choose the tools they need, digital or analog, to help themselves learn. I did share a few tools that were used regularly by my students including Visuwords for vocabulary but I did not dwell on them. I intentionally kept the discussion on the ways I helped the students learn how to learn vocabulary, skills, and comprehension.

After the presentation I reviewed the evaluations I received from the attendees. I did receive a couple that had the technology parts marked down, including the less than engaging slides I created. Overall the evaluations were very good. I even had one comment that said it was the most useful session for their classroom they had attended. So, I guess you really can give a presentation at a tech conference without the focus being on the technology.